PROVINCIAL mainland authorities are likely to face more pressure to release SAR residents detained over commercial disputes as China prepares to enter the World Trade Organisation (WTO), an academic says. 'China will be eager to clamp down on abuses of power by public security officers, especially over commercial cases which are not politically sensitive,' when it enters the WTO, said Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fan, associate law professor at City University. 'These cases are not politically sensitive and the detainees are not political dissidents. 'Also, investors will not feel comfortable doing business on the mainland without more assurances on a fair and well-established legal system.' The mainland also should consider setting up a special court to handle cases involving SAR people, Dr Leung suggested. 'There are special courts dealing with foreigners and ethnic minorities on the mainland, why not one for the SAR people who come from a different jurisdiction?' she said. 'Most of these people being detained are from the lower and lower-middle class who may not have sufficient legal knowledge, and their background would be taken into consideration [in the special court].' There are 88 SAR residents - 40 serving sentences and 48 being detained - in jails in various parts of the mainland, mostly because of commercial fraud, smuggling, tax evasion and bribery allegations. Three of the 88 were locked up before the handover in 1997. The maximum period for detaining a person without charge is seven months under normal circumstances, according to China's Criminal Procedure Law. Human rights and legal groups have been highly critical of the prolonged detentions without court procedures in some of the cases. But Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai is less optimistic that the mainland's entry to the WTO will increase the chance of SAR people being given a fair trial. 'Unless Beijing is really serious in cracking down in these cases, I don't see that there will be any difference for the frontline officers, who will always hold on to their immediate interest,' he said. An agreement about the notification system between the Security Bureau and Beijing's Public Security Ministry's Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Affairs Office was promised early this month. Under the system, to be implemented from January 1, mainland regional authorities will be obliged to report the detention of an SAR citizen to Beijing's Public Security Ministry and to update his or her status when necessary. The report will be passed on by the Ministry to Hong Kong police. The same procedure will apply to mainland Customs. But both Bowen Leung Po-wing, the director for the SAR Office in Beijing, and Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee declined to comment on whether the mechanism would help stop abuses of power by mainland officers. Neither Mr Leung nor Mrs Ip believe any of the detentions have exceeded the statutory period. Bar Council member Philip Dykes SC said: 'The purpose of the notification system is to have the Hong Kong Government give comment if a case is not looking good.'