The education minister had misinterpreted the findings of an inquiry that found evidence of government interference into academic freedom at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the Court of First Instance was told yesterday. Speaking at a judicial review of the report launched by education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung, Joseph Fok SC said the misinterpretation had given rise to a 'chilling effect'. 'After reading the report, government officials said: 'Oh my goodness, I can't telephone academics anymore!' But the real question is whether people are left with [the problem that they do not know] what to do.' Mr Fok was appointed 'a friend of the court' to provide independent assistance to Mr Justice Michael Hartmann and Mr Justice Poon Shiu-chor in deciding the case. The inquiry last year concluded that the allegation that the former permanent secretary for education, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, had acted improperly by asking former HKIEd president Paul Morris to 'curb' two academics was partially established. The commission, an independent tribunal appointed by the chief executive and headed by the Court of Appeal's Mr Justice Wally Yeung Chun-kuen, concluded it was 'improper for someone of Mrs Law's position to attempt to silence critics by addressing them personally or through their superiors, irrespective of the motive'. But Mr Fok argued that the conclusion of the report did not deny Mrs Law's own freedom of expression and it would be a misreading of the report if government officials worried it affected them in a way that they might not be able to engage in debates with academics in the future. He submitted that mere persuasion would not amount to interference, but he also noted the commission had found Mrs Law attempted to 'silence' critics, which suggested pressure had been asserted. Acting for Mr Suen, Michael Beloff QC argued that the direct contact made to the academics by Mrs Law did not 'sufficiently' amount to interference in academic freedom. He had submitted that the commission of inquiry had erred in law by paying 'insufficient respect to Mrs Law's right to expression'. The court yesterday reserved judgment to a later date.