THE committee scrutinising the powers of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is nobody's idea of a bunch of radical civil rights campaigners. So when the august group led by conservative shipping magnate Helmut Sohmen feels that some of the Commissioner's powers are excessive and should be shifted to the Judiciary it is time the Government sat up and listened. The committee's work is by no means complete. It is, as yet, unclear whether it will recommend a dilution of his authority within the ICAC itself, for instance by revoking his controversial power to sack any member of staff without explanation, public or private. Its conclusions on this will be awaited with interest both inside the agency and by the public. It is precisely Bertrand de Speville's use of this power to sack his most senior local officer, Alex Tsui Ka-kit, that prompted the review and the Legislative Council's intervention in the first place. However, the powers Mr Sohmen has touched upon publicly are ultimately of greater and more fundamental concern. Mr de Speville's powers to seize suspects' property and travel documents without reference to the courts would no doubt make his counterparts in many other jurisdictions green with envy. But they would also make any responsible law enforcement officer uneasy. Making any seizure order subject to the discretion of the courts is the minimum safeguard required to ensure the ICAC's accountability and deter abuses of power. Leaving the decision entirely in the hands of the agency involved in securing a conviction stacks the cards unfairly against the suspect. The sooner the courts are brought into the picture, the better. It is a pity Mr Sohmen's committee has decided not to give similar attention to the power to order phone-taps, vested theoretically with the Governor, but delegated in practice to the head of the investigating department. Phone-tapping is not confined to the ICAC, and the committee is right to leave the final review of the regulations to the Law Reform Commission. Nevertheless, a pointer to its opinion would have been helpful. In all these areas, the ICAC Commissioner's powers are excessive and probably open to challenge under the Bill of Rights. They may have been justified to deal with the police corruption emergency of the 1970s. In today's more libertarian society, those powers have outlived their purpose.