Moves by the Director of Immigration to deny non-permanent residents the automatic right to re-enter Hong Kong after travelling were unconstitutional, the highest court ruled yesterday. The unanimous ruling upheld a Court of Appeal decision in June last year that found the Basic Law protected the travel rights of non-permanent residents whose visas had not expired. Counsel for the Director of Immigration had argued during the latest appeal that the Basic Law did allow the curtailment of travel rights under immigration laws. The court was told that section 11(10) of the Immigration Ordinance meant that permission to remain in Hong Kong for its one million non-permanent residents expired the moment they left the territory. But Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, siting on a panel of five judges, ruled yesterday that it was not the intention of the Basic Law to confer additional rights, only to have them 'swept away' by domestic legislation. 'The intention of the Basic Law was to entrench constitutionally the rights and freedoms . . . which are essential to Hong Kong's separate system,' he said. 'And the courts have the duty of safeguarding and protecting them by adopting a generous approach to their interpretation.' He said if section 11(10) was to apply to a non-permanent resident whose limit of stay had not expired, he would have to seek permission to land afresh every time he re-entered the SAR. 'This would be the inevitable consequence if, for example, he departed just for a few hours to play golf on the mainland,' he said. Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary added that if the director was correct, it would severely curb the movement of non-permanent residents. 'Such a consequence would be plainly unconstitutional,' he said. 'For it would so inhibit or penalise travel on the part of non-permanent residents as virtually to abrogate their freedom to travel.' The debate centred on the Immigration Department's decision to refuse Gurung Kesh Bahadur, 40, re-entry to the SAR after he travelled to Nepal in November 1997. Mr Gurung, a former Gurkha soldier, had obtained a visa allowing him to stay in Hong Kong as a dependent of his Hong Kong born-wife until January 1999. His solicitor, Jal Karbhari, yesterday said he was 'delighted' with the judgment. 'It is a landmark decision as far as Hong Kong is concerned,' he said. He said the judgment had resolved matters for his client, who had been battling the system for five years. 'It has been a great ordeal for him,' Mr Karbhari said.