The Basic Law ruling under which Chong Fung-yuen qualifies for right of abode is so straightforward the two-year-old himself could understand it. Permanent residency is the right of 'Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region'. Or it was until the leadership-in-waiting had visions of thousands of mainland migrants rushing headlong into the SAR after 1997. That fearful possibility was plugged when the Preparatory Committee declared the true intention of Article 24(2)1 was to limit this provision to those with a parent already established as a Hong Kong resident. The Government argues that it is not up to the courts to rely solely on the letter of the law; it is their duty to abide by the interpretation of the Preparatory Committee. Predictably, the Court of Appeal rejected this approach, which risks emasculating the SAR's judicial system, destroying the rule of law and making courts the pawns of official policy. Past experience suggests the administration will not be deterred by this setback and the case will probably reach the Court of Final Appeal. If judges there uphold yesterday's verdict, the acid test will be whether the Government then asks the court to refer the case to the National People's Congress Standing Committee for a ruling. Or if it appeals directly to Beijing. Of course, that is the worst-case scenario. After the way the judicial system and the SAR's image was damaged by the reinterpretation row, wiser counsel may prevail. A willingness to accept the court's authority would restore some credibility lost by 'one country, two systems' in June last year. According to Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie, that is why it was decided not to ask the Standing Committee for a full interpretation of Article 24. It seems unlikely the Government will retreat from that stance. If it does, the door could be opened to a situation in which Hong Kong law has lost authority and judicial decisions must rely on approval by Beijing.