The Court of Final Appeal has handled more than five times as many criminal cases since the handover than the Privy Council dealt with in the same length of time before mid-1997, the director of public prosecutions noted yesterday. Grenville Cross said the increase in cases was testing the resources of the prosecutions division of the Department of Justice. The number of cases in the 71/2 years between 1997 and the end of last year was 568. Only 99 went before the Privy Council from 1990 to the handover. The powers of the Court of Final Appeal were brought into question in 1999 when the government sought the National People's Congress Standing Committee's interpretation of the Basic Law in relation to right of abode for mainlanders after the court had already ruled on the case. Fears were raised that the interpretation request would taint the public's confidence in the finality of the court's decisions. But Mr Cross said the increase in cases showed that the people of Hong Kong had confidence in the post-1997 legal arrangements. 'Obviously, if they did not have confidence, they would not bother,' Mr Cross said. 'These are encouraging figures because they show people have confidence. There has been a significant strain on our resources because counsels have had to be redeployed, but we did anticipate it.' At the yearly review of the prosecutions division, Mr Cross said a new code of practice for expert witnesses had been issued, stating that witnesses' duty was to the court and not to the lawyer paying their fee. 'The code emphasises that the expert witness has an overriding duty to assist the court impartially on matters relevant to his area of expertise and has a primary duty to the court and not to the person who retains him,' he said. 'The expert witness is not an advocate for a party, but a seeker of the truth.' Mr Cross said there were, from time to time, complaints about expert witnesses and the decision to issue a code was made in line with overseas practices. On last year's controversial decision not to prosecute mainland security officials found in Hong Kong with handcuffs in an apparent stakeout, Mr Cross said the same tests were applied to all cases that came before them. 'No one was treated as being above the law,' he said. Mr Cross said his division had been in contact with Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes SC over the issue. In February, Mr Dykes raised the issue of discrepancies in fees given to prosecutors and defence counsel briefed by the Legal Aid Department in criminal cases. 'We pay what we think is an appropriate rate for prosecutions, but there is validity in the points [Mr Dykes] has made,' Mr Cross said.