THE solicitor representing seven of the Boat 101 refugees condemned yesterday's ruling as a blow for justice. John Kerr, who has worked on the case for three years, said he feared it would establish a precedent allowing the Government to detain citizens of any nationality with relative impunity. ''In respect of Captain Pham Van Ngo, according to the judgment he is entitled to $52.22 a day for being falsely imprisoned. Is that what freedom is worth in Hong Kong for now and 1997 onwards?'' he asked. He also referred to the award of $100 to three-year-old Nguyen Hoang Anh, who was born to one of the refugee couples in a detention camp and lived there for five months before resettlement. ''I would hate to say that my child's formative years spent in a detention camp were worth $100. The cost of 10 ice creams is the price of freedom for this child.'' Mr Kerr had wanted substantial exemplary damages for his clients and is now considering whether he has grounds for appeal. Concern was raised by other legal experts that the Judiciary had abandoned its traditional independence. They claimed the Government had feared an avalanche of compensation claims if the damages had been higher. ''It's a victory for the establishment. The Judiciary sided with the establishment,'' one said. ''The consequences are horrible. This ruling basically gives the PLA [People's Liberation Army] carte blanche to put away whoever they want. The most worrying thing is this precedent will be enforced after 1997. ''The law says you should be equal under the law whether you are Chinese, Vietnamese or whatever. But this result says some people are not equal.'' The sums contrast markedly with awards given by courts in the United Kingdom and elsewhere for wrongful imprisonment. One example quoted to the South China Morning Post was the case of an unemployed British man who spent 40 days in prison after being arrested for not paying his rates. A judge later ruled that he had been falsely imprisoned and awarded him more than $300,000 compensation. The Hong Kong Government last year paid out $90,000 in an out of court settlement for falsely detaining a Filipino amah for two days. Pam Baker, the solicitor who first recommended that the crew of Boat 101 should be awarded legal aid, said she was ''absolutely appalled, offended and insulted'' by the size of the award. Mrs Baker said she would now like to see legal aid awarded to the refugees to finance an appeal. ''If that fails, I would like to see the case go to the Privy Council. ''These people were treated abominably. Their camps were over-crowded, dirty, squalid; they were dangerous. All they wanted to do was get their boat back and move on. Ever since, their lives have been lived in limbo.'' Dr Roda Mushkat, a reader of international law at the University of Hong Kong, said the compensation was a small amount to put on the value of human life. ''I think the court probably had in mind that everyone would start suing the Hong Kong Government for unlawful detention. The fact that they were refugees was probably a factor. It wasn't an ordinary case of unlawful detention.'' When asked if the Judiciary, as an independent arbiter of justice, had compromised its constitutionally-avowed independence, Dr Mushkat replied: ''Were I writing an academic paper, maybe I would suggest something of that sort.''