The departure of Elsie Leung Oi-sie as secretary for justice marks the beginning of a new chapter in Hong Kong's legal history. Miss Leung has been at the forefront of the many legal controversies that have arisen in the eight years since the handover. She has been on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism. Whatever view is taken of the key decisions Miss Leung made or supported during her tenure, no one can doubt that she was a dedicated minister and a woman of integrity. She was driven by a strong sense of loyalty, especially to the central government. This sometimes brought her into conflict with mainstream opinion in Hong Kong. But she took the criticism with good grace. Miss Leung, a solicitor specialising in family law, had been reluctant to take the job. She was not an obvious choice. During her time at the top, the rule of law has had a bumpy ride. She must accept some responsibility for this. The lowest point of her tenure was perhaps the decision not to prosecute tycoon Sally Aw Sian for alleged involvement in a fraud conspiracy in 1998. Miss Leung justified the move partly on the grounds that a prosecution could harm Ms Aw's business and was therefore not in the public interest. It gave the impression that some people might be above the law in post-handover Hong Kong - and led to a no-confidence motion against Miss Leung in the Legislative Council. She survived, and battled on, but failed to shake off the shadow cast by the case. Miss Leung grew in confidence as she gained more experience. But she faced many difficult constitutional issues arising from the post-handover arrangements. The most enduring landmarks of Miss Leung's tenure are her support for Beijing's interpretations of the Basic Law. Although legally valid, these have blurred the dividing lines between the Hong Kong and mainland legal systems, damaging confidence in the rule of law. We do not know how hard Miss Leung fought behind the scenes to defend the Hong Kong position on constitutional issues. She may well have battled hard. Publicly, however, she loyally supported the central government's position. This created a perception, at least, that she was not sufficiently prepared to fight for Hong Kong's interests. But she acted in good faith and did what she believed - rightly or wrongly - to be best for Hong Kong. Her good relationship with the mainland did have advantages. Miss Leung worked hard to build cross-border bridges and to help Hong Kong's lawyers gain access to the mainland market. The new justice minister, Wong Yan-lung, comes from a different background. He was a surprise choice. The high-flying senior counsel joined a protest march by lawyers against Beijing's interpretation on the right of abode in 1999 and another this year on the length of the chief executive's term. He is also on friendly terms with the pro-democracy Article 45 Group. But Mr Wong is regarded as a non-political figure who will stand up for common law principles and Hong Kong's core values. These are all good qualities. He was certainly not afraid to speak his mind when meeting the media yesterday. Mr Wong said he hoped there would not be future interpretations of the Basic Law by Beijing and declared an intention to ensure the government - including the chief executive - abides by the law. This is good to hear. But it remains to be seen whether Mr Wong will be able to keep his pledge to remain true to his conscience when difficult problems arise. The appointment of a lawyer with Mr Wong's background does, however, suggest Beijing feels confident about the situation in Hong Kong. That bodes well for the future. Miss Leung presided over a difficult chapter in Hong Kong's legal history. She has tackled many big problems. But each controversy added to the burden the legal chief had to carry. Mr Wong has the advantage of being able to make a fresh start. He is a new man for a new era. We hope he will make good on his promise to steadfastly defend Hong Kong's rule of law.