What happens when a judge appears to rule against you but doesn't explicitly say so? That's the curious position retired taxman Chu King-kwok finds himself in, his lawyer told a magistrate who was about to pass sentence on him yesterday for misconduct in public office. The lawyer, Kevin Egan, argued the judge's failure to either convict Chu or direct a magistrate to convict him meant he should be a free man. For now, though, he is on bail until June 2, when legal argument will be rejoined. Chu, who worked for 33 years for the Inland Revenue Department, is accused of having copied the personal data of 18,300 taxpayers. He initially told ICAC investigators he did so in order to appear busy so his boss wouldn't give him more work. Chu was originally acquitted of the charge by magistrate Bina Chainrai in Eastern Court in 2008 but the prosecution appealed on a point of law. In the Court of First Instance on April 19 this year Madam Justice Clare-Marie Beeson found in favour of the Justice Department and Chu duly appeared at Eastern Court yesterday for sentence. But Egan told Chainrai in a written submission that Beeson in her finding had omitted to enter a conviction. He pointed out that the judgment concluded with, 'I answer all three questions in the affirmative', referring to legal points raised by prosecutors. Egan submitted that the appellate function was not complete because Beeson did not exercise her power to give effect to her three answers with an order explicitly convicting Chu, and that such order could not be implied in criminal proceedings. Sending the case back to Beeson to 'complete' the judicial process was not an option because it was too late, so Chu should be allowed to leave the court a free man, he argued. Chu, who was charged by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2007, had been responsible for sorting mail from taxpayers who wished to appeal against tax assessments or hold over tax payments. Between 1 April 2004 and 16 November 2006, the court heard, he had copied personal data including names, identity card numbers and contact details, which were recorded on 77 pieces of paper found at his home and 255 pieces of paper seized by the ICAC from his office. The ICAC interviewed Chu three times, asking him why he copied the data. Chu said the first time that he wanted to look busy. The second time, he said that he wanted to keep a record of work he had done in case his superior questioned him over not finishing work assigned to him. The third time, he said that as his retirement was approaching he thought the data might be of use in the future if he became a salesman, insurance agent or property agent. The court heard he copied the data at least two years before he was due to retire and had not used it. As part of his defence, a psychiatrist gave evidence that Chu was a compulsive hoarder and exhibited a form of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. A psychiatrist called by the prosecution agreed Chu had the disorder but said his copying of data did not fit the definition of compulsion. In 2008, Chainrai decided that the copying was unlikely to be related to a mental disorder. But she acquitted Chu on the basis that he had made no decision about possible future uses for the data. She accepted that Chu's thoughts of using the data in the future could be described as an improper motive, but she did not consider the misconduct to be serious.