THE retired senior judge who will lead the probe into the Government's alleged attempt to meddle in opinion polls is respected and admired by his peers. Mr Justice Noel Power accepted an invitation from University of Hong Kong council chairman Yang Ti Liang last week to head the three-member inquiry into the controversy. The panel will investigate claims made by Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, head of the Public Opinion Programme at the university's Journalism and Media Studies Centre, in an article published by the South China Morning Post on July 7. In his column, Dr Chung claimed Tung Chee-hwa had passed on a clear message, through a third party, that he wanted an end to opinion polls on the Chief Executive's popularity and the Government's credibility. Dr Chung later named the third party as university vice-chancellor Professor Cheng Yiu-chung. Professor Cheng and Mr Tung denied putting pressure on Dr Chung. Mr Justice Power, who is expected to return to Hong Kong early next month to prepare for the inquiry, keeps a low profile and seldom makes headlines. His only brush with the media was when he handled a case not dissimilar to the forthcoming inquiry. In 1996, Judge Brian Caird, alleged that he was subjected to political pressure by two other judges - Clare Beeson and Richard Hawkes - over one of his cases. Mr Justice Power, then acting Chief Justice, found no wrongdoing by judges Beeson and Hawkes. His new role is likely to bring Mr Justice Power further into the spotlight, as it involves not only the question of academic freedom but also the Chief Executive's integrity and Hong Kong's international image. Mr Yang, Chief Justice at the time of the 1996 inquiry and now an Executive Councillor, has known Mr Justice Power since the 1960s, when both sat on the bench at the South Kowloon Magistracy. 'As a colleague, he is always very willing to help and offer good advice. He is very conscientious and fair,' Mr Yang said. He said the former judge was a 'very mild-mannered man'. Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said that in legal and judicial circles Mr Justice Power was considered a no-nonsense man who would call a spade a spade, and that he was very respected among his peers. The Australian judge's firm resolve was demonstrated in a Court of Appeal case on judicial intervention in 1991. 'It is the duty of the judge to ensure, at all times, that he understands the evidence of the witnesses and that the witnesses make responsive answers to the questions asked,' he said. But Mr Justice Power's talents do not end in the courtroom. 'He is a great cook. But I haven't had a chance to try his dishes,' Mr Yang said. Mr Justice Power is also known as a wine connoisseur. He has been the president of the Hong Kong chapter of the International Wine and Food Society for 12 years. He came back to Hong Kong early this year to attend the annual black-tie dinner of the affiliated Wines of the Pacific Rim organisation and to auction dozens of expensive bottles of wine donated by producers. One participant recalled: 'The judge was a terrific auctioneer - fast-talking and funny. He was a jolly storyteller.' His talent for wines did not go to waste during the Chris Patten era, when he offered advice to Government House on what wines to buy.