Investigations into offences such as aiding and abetting or conspiracy under the proposed Article 23 laws were easily liable to abuse with the help of 'draconian' police powers, the head of the Hong Kong Bar Association warned yesterday. Association chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said aiding and abetting would be as much an offence as the substantive offences of sedition, subversion and treason if the proposals were implemented. Using the hypothetical example of a reporter travelling to Taipei to interview President Chen Shui-bian, Mr Leong said there were no safeguards to prevent the journalist from being investigated by police for aiding and abetting secession upon returning to Hong Kong. 'There will be a prima-facie case for police to start an investigation,' Mr Leong said. 'With the provisions in the consultation paper, the [police] superintendent can break into your home to search your notes, tapes of your interviews with Chen and the commissioner of police can even go so far as to check your bank accounts. 'Even if you are acquitted, the net effect will be that no other reporter would dream of going to interview Chen Shui-bian in Taipei.' Mr Leong said that while other countries, including Britain, had such laws, there was an accountability system in place there to safeguard public interest. 'The English Act requires police officers who have to exercise such draconian powers to search and seize without a warrant to file a report with the executive arm of the government,' he said. 'A parliamentary officer elected by universal suffrage can then request a copy of this report.' Meanwhile, Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie yesterday sought to allay fears that freedom of the press and freedom of association would be diminished by the proposed laws. 'I am glad the consultation document has aroused a lot of interest . . . and understand there are concerns regarding freedom of the press, but it seems to me many of the questions arise not because of the new proposals but rather because people are not clear about provisions in the existing law,' she said. 'It's good because once the question is brought to the public, let's discuss it and find out what the current restrictions are and whether the new proposals are acceptable.' In response to questions about whether a white bill on the matter would be released at a later stage, she said only that any law introduced must have the support of the legislative councillors who she described as 'elected by the public'. Twenty-four out of the 60 legislators are elected by universal suffrage.