THE second the clock signals the dawn of Chinese rule, police badges in the territory will become antiquated. New insignia will be worn. Caps featuring a bilingual ensign will be the most different item of uniform. Buttons may also be redecorated. Instead of swearing allegiance to the Crown and all that the common law entails, the unlucky officers on June 30, 1997, whose job it will be to control midnight revellers, are almost certain to be pledging an altogether new oath of office. But while the symbolic change of police uniform may seem free of angst, the years beyond the handover do not appear rosy for law and order; nor for the machinery which embodies our legal institutions, ethics and values. It is not clear how, whether and to what extent cross border co-operation and law enforcement bonhomie will be evident. Like so much else, the territory's police and legal future is impossible to predict given the atrophy surrounding the bulk of the work of the Joint Liaison Group. At present, the surrender of fugitive offenders, the return of stolen motor vehicles and yachts - and aligned policing matters such as investigations involving corruption in either jurisdiction - is based on nothing more than a friendly handshake. There is no prescribed order for these relationships. No statutory guidance. What's more, it is all one-way traffic; the Chinese exhibiting a peculiar degree of understanding for their police over the territory's inability to send mainland fugitives north - the manifest reason being China's belief in the death penalty. In the future, however, it is difficult to envisage such a loose affair being allowed - or able - to remain. There are bound to be sticking points, with potential to impinge on police independence. At this stage, it is anybody's guess. Much legislation which applies to Hong Kong by virtue of its unique constitutional status has not yet been localised. If the prospect of a legal vacuum prevails, no amount of political good intention or bureaucratic manoeuvring will spare the territory from inevitable decline. Former Bar Association chairman, Jacqueline Leong QC is despondent about the territory's future. She spoke of the administration's seeming lack of recognition for possible unfinished business and the murky question of whether crimes foreign to Hong Kong - but intrinsic to Chinese law - will apply after 1997. She fears laws such as the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance may be manipulated for the persecution of political activists and supports the growing demand for the dismantling of repressive laws. 'It really is a massive programme that we have before us,' she said, 'and it requires a 10 or 20-year long term strategic plan. 'Somehow, there is this belief that things will simply carry on. It is not as straightforward as that. It is like approaching a door with a key that you think will open it but then, when you get nearer, finding out it is held back by a combination lock.' Miss Leong hopes to see the re-equipping of the judiciary almost complete by 2000. She hopes points such as making laws Chinese, translating ordinances and using Chinese in the courts will be resolved and operating smoothly while other issues of international concern - copyright, textile agreements and quotas, monetary agreements, berthing rights at container terminals will also be fixed. THEN there is reciprocal enforcement of arbitration awards, service of documents to assist in international litigation, taking of evidence in separate jurisdictions, recognition and enforcement of judgments and whether marriages and divorces will be mutually upheld. Chairman of the Bar Association Special Committee on Criminal Law, Barry Skeats, said lawyers are united in their desire for a statutory code governing law enforcers. 'There is going to be considerable unease until something is declared that says there will be no capricious or ad-hoc action based more on expediency,' he said. So, what of the police? In recent months, links with the mainland have become especially upbeat. Earlier this year, on the return of five luxury yachts, Deputy Commissioner Peter Wong Tsan-kwong declared neither jurisdiction would become a haven for criminal aliens. But Chinese criminals can rely on the territory for the cold fact that no offenders have been taken north of the border. This state of affairs will probably end after 1997. The Director of Criminal Investigations, Tsang Yam-pui, who accompanied Commissioner Eddie Hui Ki-on on his first official visit to China, spoke enthusiastically of greater sharing of information. He said more mainland police, under strict controls, could be allowed to come to Hong Kong to further their investigations. It remains to be seen what arrangements will cover the surrender of fugitive offenders. Equally unclear is the extent to which authorities will be able to operate in their counterpart's jurisdiction. Instead of belonging to Interpol as a separate entity, Hong Kong will join Beijing's National Central Bureau as a subsidiary partner; coming under policy guidance of Chinese rulers. This conjures up operational parameters - and specific targets for law enforcement such as the seizure of Taiwanese flags - being dictated from the north. However, Mr Tsang is keen to see a maintenance of the operational status-quo, stressing the imperative of autonomy. He hopes procedures governing the surrender of fugitives is clarified so they will not remain an unclear arrangement prone to confusion and abuse. 'It needs to be a necessary procedure with worthwhile conditions so the people of Hong Kong know that the standards of proof - and the sense of fair play - will continue,' he said. 'It would be very difficult to operate without such procedures. We also hope the rule of law stays. We have been given assurances many times that the Royal Hong Kong Police Force will be autonomous in all that we will be doing. 'I don't see things changing for the worse in co-operation and liaison. It will only get better.' Mr Tsang is ambivalent about particular Chinese laws being imposed in Hong Kong beyond 2000 - stressing police will only enforce rules laid down by the Special Administrative Region. However, it needs to be considered how, the 'one country' themes of compliance will be enforced by the force. In addition, a flow of fingerprint data and criminal intelligence can be expected, although the extent to which this happens will be dictated more by China's lack of technology. Despite denials that China will establish a bureau in Hong Kong, it would not be a surprise if an outpost was settled soon after 1997; nor would it startle anyone in the force if an exchange scheme emerged with Chinese officers learning more about our law enforcement techniques. The People's Liberation Army will also be operating here. The Director of Operations, Senior Assistant Commissioner Toby Emmet, recently said he could foresee a situation where 'another agency' could be called on to assist police. Despite his comments being viewed as politicking over the Public Order Ordinance, the looming presence of the PLA can't be understated. As Mr Emmet said: 'If we have insufficient powers to effectively deal with an internal problem, the prospect of another agency coming to assist is therefore heightened.' Certainly, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) got a whiff of an intrusive future when the deputy procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procurate, Liang Guoqing, pledged in August to prosecute corrupt mainland officials in Hong Kong. Liang said he was misunderstood and did not mean interference in the territory's independence. But it is not unthinkable that mainland law enforcement officials will extend their ambit to Hong Kong after 1997.