The government yesterday said it had acted within the law when it charged dozens of refugees and torture claimants who had allegedly been working while remaining illegally in the city, saying the court should overturn an earlier ruling to the contrary. The Court of First Instance had ruled last year that a magistrate was wrong to say the Department of Justice had acted within its prosecution policy towards refugees and torture when it charged them. However yesterday, Peter Duncan SC, for the Secretary of Justice, challenged that ruling in the Court of Appeal. The prosecution policy was made by the Department of Justice in 2007, under which it will not prosecute asylum seekers, who have entered the city illegally, for immigration offences. However, it can charge them for committing non-immigration offences or immigration offences that are serious or unrelated to their asylum claim. The asylum seekers' cases were originally before the Magistrates' Courts but were postponed after dozens of the claimants asked for a judicial review of the magistrate's decision. Proceedings at those courts are pending a decision on yesterday's appeal. Some claimants have since backed out of the case. The remaining 24 turned up in court yesterday. According to the Immigration Ordinance, someone who has landed unlawfully may not remain in Hong Kong without the authority of the director of immigration. The claimants had been charged under that legislation. Hectar Pun, for some of the 24 asylum seekers and torture claimants in the case, argued that when the director of immigration released them into the city pending a decision on their status claims, they were not without the authority of the director. The court reserved judgment.