ONE reason for listening to all shades of opinion is to prevent the further erosion of confidence in the concept of ''one country, two systems'' after 1997. Liberal lawyers were shocked at Duanmu Zheng's recent prediction that the common law system would gradually disappear. The Vice-President of the Supreme People's Court of China and former Basic Law drafter said judgments based on precedent, instead of the available evidence, relied too much on the British system. He praised the mainland system as simpler. Coming from a man of such influence, the remarks were seen as a threat. The subtext read into his statement was that the independence of the judiciary enshrined in the British legal system (as well as the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law) would be phased out with it. Among lawyers appointed as Hong Kong affairs advisers, a different view prevails. A gradual change is seen as inevitable. Chinese company law is already copied from Hong Kong law. Given the relative maturity of the two systems, it is likely Hong Kong lawwill continue to influence China more than the other way round. The opposing views are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for Hong Kong to influence mainland law without preventing the dismantling of local judicial independence. Phasing out the reliance on precedents would make political manipulation easier, but not inevitable. Other former British colonies have stopped relying automatically on English legal precedents, often following instead the thinking behind relevant judgments in other common law jurisdictions. What matters is not the English system per se, but judicial independence, the presumption of innocence, and the maintenance of the rule of law over the arbitrary ''rule of man''. By listening to all shades of opinion, Beijing could help assuage local fears of political manipulation. Consulting only those prepared to give China the benefit of the doubt will increase the suspicion and fear among those it still excludes.