THE Bar Association, which jealously protects its members from competition from overseas lawyers in Hong Kong's courts, is alarmed that there may be a loophole in the law which allows overseas lawyers free access to appear in a tribunal. The Bar has launched an immediate appeal against a decision by Mr Justice Barnett who ruled last week that an English barrister can appear before the Buildings Appeal Tribunal without seeking permission from the local Bar. Chairman of the Bar, Ronny Wong, confirmed that they took the matter seriously. He said the appeal was due to be heard on Thursday before a single judge who would be asked to order the appeal to be heard immediately by three Court of Appeal judges. Leading London silk Neville Thomas QC is due to appear before the Buildings Appeal Tribunal on the same day. Last night Mr Wong played down the significance of the case, saying the loophole was restricted to the Buildings Ordinance, which said the parties could be represented by a barrister, a solicitor or a paid advocate. Mr Justice Barnett, after hearing arguments during a short Chambers hearing from City West Investment Limited, which wants Mr Thomas to represent it at the tribunal, and the Bar, held that Mr Thomas was a paid advocate in this case. There are hundreds of other tribunals in Hong Kong, and depending on Mr Justice Barnett's reasons for giving the declaration and the wording of the governing statutes of each tribunal, the loophole could prove to be a yawning gap, according to two lawyers consulted yesterday. In the past, clients who wanted to be represented at a tribunal by an overseas lawyer would seek permission from the Bar, just as they do for court cases. In this case, City West's solicitors, Johnson Stokes and Master, took the view that no permission was needed. The Bar's numbers have swelled dramatically in recent times, making life difficult for some barristers who cannot find enough work. It has opposed many applications in the past decade to have overseas experts admitted to take cases in Hong Kong. This has long been a bone of contention among solicitors, who claim they can fly a London silk to the territory first class, and put him up in a hotel cheaper than briefing a local silk. Mr Justice Barnett is expected to give his reasons in open court within the next week or so, because it is a matter of public interest.