Right-of-abode protestors gathered last night to mark the fifth anniversary of a court ruling which had far-reaching implications for Hong Kong. The judgment in favour of mainlanders seeking residency gave the Court of Final Appeal its first opportunity to tackle constitutional issues arising from the handover. Through its interpretation of the Basic Law, the court sought to underline the independence of our courts and the importance of upholding human rights. It had the best of intentions and its ruling might have eased many concerns about the way in which the one country, two systems concept would work, had it been allowed to stand. Unfortunately, the ruling sparked a backlash from Beijing. It also prompted Tung Chee-hwa effectively to ask for it to be overturned through a new interpretation of the relevant provisions by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. His request was granted. The passions which were inflamed by the right-of-abode affair have largely been forgotten. But many of the problems raised in 1999 remain. And they may surface again as we consider the delicate issue of political reform. The government has resisted the temptation to go to Beijing in an attempt to have any other court rulings overturned. Long may this be the case. Such actions only serve to undermine our independent judiciary and the rule of law. But officials have also chosen not to rule out the prospect. This 'weapon' remains in the government's armoury whenever a sensitive case is heard. It should be for the court to decide whether there is a need for the NPC Standing Committee to give an interpretation in a particular case. However, the criteria to be used for making such a decision remain unclear. The test developed five years ago was rejected by the standing committee, but the court has not yet attempted to establish a new one. When the need arises, the task will be a difficult one. Then there is the issue of the procedure to be adopted should Beijing decide to give its own interpretation in the absence of court proceedings. Doubts remain about how this would be triggered, and who has the right to formally request it. The workings of the Basic Law Committee, responsible for advising Beijing on interpretations, have been shrouded in secrecy and remain uncertain. Given the turmoil experienced in 1999, it is understandable that the various authorities concerned have shied away from tackling these problems. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, it might be thought. But the danger of leaving important questions unanswered is that sooner or later events may occur which will require a solution. And one may then have to be found in circumstances which do not lend themselves to calm and rational decision-making. We should seek to avoid a repeat of the right of abode controversy.