We are limited by the Basic Law in ruling on government decisions, Andrew Li tells opening ceremony of legal year Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang warned yesterday the courts could not provide a solution to political, social and economic problems. At the ceremonial opening of the legal year at City Hall, Mr Justice Li said while people with grievances were entitled to seek satisfaction through the courts, their function was limited to assessing the legality of government decisions and laws within the parameters of the Basic Law and statutes. 'The courts' judgment can only establish the limits of legality. The courts could not possibly provide an answer to, let alone a panacea for, any of the various political, social and economic problems which confront society,' he said. While noting that litigants were increasingly filing for judicial reviews to such problems, Mr Justice Li said: 'The appropriate solution to any political, social or economic problem can only be properly explored though the political process ... [where] a suitable compromise may be found, reconciling the conflicting interests and considerations ... and balancing short-term needs and long-term goals.' The proper functioning of the political process was the responsibility of the administration and the legislature. But Mr Justice Li refused to be drawn on whether a more participatory political process would reduce the need for people to resolve problems through judicial review. He said the breadth of issues brought before the courts in judicial reviews posed 'interesting challenges' for judges but they were equipped to handle them. The past year has seen several controversial issues brought to the courts through judicial reviews, including covert surveillance, the Link Reit, homosexual age of consent and the length of the new chief executive's term. There were 149 such cases last year, compared with 102 in 2002. Mr Justice Li said the striking increase could be attributed to the new constitutional instruments that had been enacted and a more educated public, who were more conscious of their rights and demanded a higher standard of governance. Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung, in his first address to the legal community, stressed the importance of the rule of law and independence in prosecution decisions, and his promise to uphold both as he served 'two masters' - the government and the law. Quoting an academic, he said: 'Treading the paths that mark the separate roles of the law officer requires at times the agility and sure-footedness of a tight-rope walker ... In Hong Kong, where we are under the new constitutional order of 'one country, two systems', the tight-rope walker may sometimes be walking in totally uncharted territory.' In an apparent reference to pressure not to prosecute the South Korean farmers arrested for World Trade Organisation protests, Mr Wong said basic rights and freedoms must be 'defended vigorously' but 'all causes, however legitimate or laudable, must be pursued according to the law'. 'Whenever freedom is abused and violence is resorted to, legal proceedings must be expected,' he said. Delivering what is believed to be the first speech in Cantonese at the opening of the legal year, Law Society chairman Peter Lo Chi-lik said he was optimistic about the future of constitutional development.