HONG Kong and Chinese groups dealing with issues that may affect the rule of law after 1997 are both complaining that their work is being hamstrung by the logjam in the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG). Both sides have called for the JLG to speed up its work. The Government's International Law Division warns that it will run out of time to seal extradition treaties and other equally important international agreements. The legal sub-group of the Beijing-appointed Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) has found that some of Hong Kong's legislation that involves international treaties to which China is not a signatory will not be applicable after 1997 unless the JLG localises the laws. A PWC member, Maria Tam Wai-chu, said she hoped the JLG could speed up its work to facilitate discussion in the PWC on whether the existing British-related laws complied with the Basic Law. China must grant approval before Hong Kong authorities can enter into lengthy negotiations with another country about treaties or agreements. Several rounds of talks are necessary before a deal can be tentatively struck and it must then be put before the Executive Council and the Chinese side in the JLG for final approval. ''We have reached the stage where all the programmes simply cannot be done in the remaining period of time,'' said the International Law Division's head, David Edwards. ''It's simply not possible to do all the programmes in the time remaining and wouldn't be even if we poured in more resources. ''We are now beyond the point where, even if [the Chinese side] approved it all, we could finish.'' Mr Edwards said his division could possibly complete the extradition agreements if there was a breakthrough in co-operation with Chinese authorities at all levels of the negotiating process. ''But it would have to be complete co-operation and I think it's pretty unlikely,'' said Mr Edwards, legal adviser in the JLG talks. ''If the extradition treaties are not in force in 1997 there will be a gap in the law. In the area of extraditions, the SAR [Special Administrative Region] will not be able to return criminals from where they came, meaning Hong Kong could become a haven for undesirables. ''Extraditions are only one of the number of things we have to do. It will certainly not be possible now to finish off programmes that haven't even begun, such as reciprocal enforcement of judgments and mutual legal assistance, which are equally important.'' The Government decided agreements with 18 to 20 countries in the region, North America and Europe would be essential for the territory to maintain international respectability and credibility. Mr Edwards predicted that necessary extradition agreements with at least six countries, or about one-third of the total, would be left unresolved in 1997 at the present rate of progress. In the area of extraditions the Government has not been able to even begin talks with 10 of these targeted countries, representing half the number on the priority list, because the Chinese side has not given the green light. Only three bi-lateral agreements for the surrender of fugitive offenders have been sealed - with the Netherlands, Canada and Australia - since the division began direct negotiations with Chinese approval in 1990. The agreements, binding under international law, will survive the territory's handover. Until 1997, the territory will continue to exchange fugitives with about 90 countries under a legal framework tied to the British system. More than 30 suspected murderers, drug traffickers and organised criminals were last year extradited between Hong Kong and the United States, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand and Macau in what the Legal Department called ''a banner year for international co-operation in fighting crime''. The other important international agreements even further behind schedule include reciprocal enforcement of judgments in law; the abolition of visas to streamline visits by Hong Kong businessmen and tourists to participating countries; mutual legal assistance; and investment promotion and protection. Senior government sources have blamed ''the excruciatingly slow pace'' of the Chinese side in the JLG for the lack of progress. Sources said that in some cases, requests to begin talks with other countries have been on the negotiating table for three years. ''One can only assume [the Chinese] are connecting it with the Governor's constitutional reform proposals,'' said a government official. ''But they can't possibly hurt the British by this. It can only hurt Hong Kong and its people.'' The legal representative on the Legislative Council, Simon Ip Sik-on, said yesterday Hong Kong would be harmed by a failure to seal extradition agreements by 1997, but he believed there was still enough time. ''These things have to be agreed in the JLG. For some mysterious reason, it's not been got on with,'' he said. ''Hong Kong could become a refuge for fugitives. Do we want to be a receptacle for fugitives? Of course, not. If there is no agreement, the ends of justice will be defeated for both sides.'' Legco Security Panel chairman Selina Chow LiangShuk-yee said the situation was extremely worrying. ''There's a big vacuum there, a void of uncertainty, that will affect Hong Kong internationally,'' she said. ''The JLG stalemate has become very serious. We are getting to a crisis stage now.'' In Beijing, PWC member Ms Tam said she hoped the JLG could speed up its work on localisation of laws. She said the PWC legal sub-group had spent the weekend going over some of the Hong Kong laws to bring them in line with the Basic Law. One difficulty they encountered was how to localise those British-related laws to the future SAR since some involved international treaties in which Britain, but not China, was a signatory. One example was the Supreme Court Ordinance which had involved the Reine International Treaty in which China was not a signatory. Ordinances which were at present extended from the United Kingdom acts, such as the Merchant Shipping Ordinance, had to be localised, she said. There were at least 100 similar cases which were under the discussion of the JLG. Ms Tam said she hoped that the diplomatic body could speed up its works. ''As long as these problems remain unresolved, it will leave a crevice. It will become uncertain for us whether to wait for a conclusion from the JLG or go it alone by ourselves.'' ,'' she said. Acting Hong Kong co-convenor Lo Tak-shing said the sub-group had gone over three pieces of ordinances relating to the judiciary system - the Supreme Court Ordinance, District Court Ordinance, and the Magistracy Ordinance. One was to change the colonial complexion of Hong Kong laws such as amending the present restriction of employing judges from the United Kingdom to common law jurisdiction. This would mean future SAR judges could be employed from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Canada and so on. In enlarging the outside areas to hire judges, Mr Lo said they had to consider the qualification of the judges such as whether they should be assessed by the same set of criteria adopted for local judges or the criteria used by their home countries.