The Court of Final Appeal will decide whether doctors at public hospitals should be compensated for working overtime. A trio of appeal court judges yesterday sent the case to the city's top adjudicator in a bid to settle a long-running dispute between the Hospital Authority and doctors who demanded time off or money for any work beyond 44 hours a week. If the Court of Final Appeal sides with the doctors, it could force the cash-strapped hospitals administrator to come up with a massive payout. 'Clearly this is a matter that should go to the Court of Final Appeal,' said Mrs Justice Doreen Le Pichon, who heard arguments with Mr Justice Wally Yeung Chun-kuen and Madam Justice Maria Yuen Ka-ning. 'It is an issue of general public importance.' The authority petitioned for a hearing at the Court of Final Appeal. Yesterday's ruling came more than two years after a group of doctors - led by medical sector legislator-elect Leung Ka-lau - successfully sued the authority for denying them rest days and statutory holidays between 1996 and 2002. The authority had offered doctors one-off payments of between HK$61,000 and HK$222,000 as compensation. But Dr Leung alone wanted HK$22.8 million to make up for thousands of hours in overtime. He is one of about 165 plaintiff doctors in the case. In his March 2006 ruling, Mr Justice William Stone supported the doctors' claim, but rejected paying compensation for hours that doctors spent on call, whether or not they were at the hospital. The doctors had claimed that they deserved overtime payments for the entire 24-hour period they were on call. But the hospital agency successfully argued that doctors were compensated by an honorarium paid to those working in areas that required a great deal of overtime.