The panel which investigated the Robert Chung Ting-yiu controversy may not have been properly constituted, it has emerged. Some experts said the section of legislation the University of Hong Kong's governing council used was intended for commercial rather than political disputes. And they questioned whether the council had the power to appoint independent experts. One expert said that if the panel was not set up properly, the university could lose if there were a judicial review of the inquiry findings. It also could be accused of misappropriating public funds. The panel was set up last month to inquire into Dr Chung's claims - made in the South China Morning Post on July 7 - that he came under pressure from Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, in messages passed on by senior university members, over his polls on the Government's credibility and Mr Tung's popularity. The council relied on University Statute XIX paragraph 2(a) to set up the inquiry. The paragraph says the council has power 'to administer and manage the finances, accounts, investments, property, business, and all affairs whatsoever of the university, and for that purpose to appoint bankers, counsel, solicitors and such officers or agents as it may be expedient to appoint'. Although the paragraph appears to allow the council to appoint agents to deal with any issue, solicitor and former legislator Ronald Arculli said such an interpretation was incorrect. He said that under a widely recognised legal principle on sentence construction - ejusdem generis - only a more limited interpretation was possible. The principle says words with general meanings, associated in the text with more limited words, are taken to have their limited meanings. This meant the council could only appoint 'agents' to deal with university commercial matters, even though the paragraph had the words 'all affairs whatsoever of the university'. He said there was another issue: 'This [controversy] is not something for the university to manage or administer. This is an issue about the conduct of individuals. And even if they are an affair of the university to administer and manage, the three independent members of the panel are neither officers nor agents of the university. How can they be?' Mr Arculli asked. The panel members were chairman Mr Justice Noel Power, Consumer Council chief Pamela Chan Wong Shui and barrister Ronny Wong Fook-hum, SC. Mr Arculli said the disclosure would strengthen demands by democrats to form a select committee in the new Legislative Council to investigate the controversy. 'How can Legco not hold an inquiry if the panel is not properly constituted?' he said. Barrister Derry Wong Hak-ming, honorary legal adviser to the university's Academic Staff Association, also questioned the panel's legality. He said another section of the statute, dealing with staff complaints and grievances, would have been more appropriate. Paragraph 2(l) says the council has the power 'to entertain and adjudicate upon complaints from, and to redress grievances of, members of the university and persons employed therein'. But it does not authorise the council to appoint a third party outside the university or an independent panel for an individual case. And another lawyer said this clause would not apply because Dr Chung had not made a formal complaint to the university. Mr Wong said: 'It surprises me there were so many judges and senior counsel in the inquiry, and nobody spotted the problem.' He said the university could face two problems if the panel's legality was challenged: a judicial review of its report and a charge of misappropriation of public funds - $2 million - for the 11-day hearing. University spokesman Christopher Chiu said he could not answer legal questions, while council chairman and former chief justice Yang Ti Liang could not be contacted. But in a letter to the academic staff union on Friday, the university said Dr Chung's allegations were an affair of the university that the council was required to manage. 'Based on Statue XIX.2(a), the council is therefore empowered to appoint 'agents' [which could include independent individuals] to act on its behalf to administer and manage all affairs of the university,' the letter read. The university did not say whether the ejusdem generis rule applied or give details of the panel's legal basis. The hearings ended on August 21 and Mr Justice Power handed his report to the council on Saturday. It has said it cannot be made public until September 6, the next full council meeting.