RONALD Arculli asks whether the Government's decision to release 124 Vietnamese asylum seekers, who have been held in Hong Kong detention centres for several years, means that Hong Kong might have to release Rawandans if they came here and their government refused to accept them for return (South China Morning Post, November 17). The Rawandan people have suffered greatly recently and Hong Kong people have responded generously and with compassion to their plight. If they did ever manage to come here - and the possibility of that happening, given the geographical distance and the rigorous controls at airports, would seem to make it unlikely - and were then held in detention for several years, and did volunteer to return and if their country did refuse to have them back, then I hope and believe that as a civilised society they would be granted their freedom. As a solicitor, Mr Arculli will no doubt recall that in 1771, when the coloured slave James Sommersett was held in irons on board a ship lying in the Thames and bound for Jamaica, Lord Mansfield declared his detention to be unlawful. 'The air of England is too pure for any slave to breathe,' he said. 'Let the black go free.' And the slave went free. Mr Arculli says of the Vietnamese that 'they should be sent to England'. Personally, I wish England would offer them sanctuary. But I wonder, does not this miss the point? Hong Kong has been promised one country, two systems. The reason there are two systems is because Hong Kong's legal system, with its roots in the English common law, has uniform respect and concern for the liberty of the individual. This is a testing point for our commitment to our system. If we sacrifice respect for liberty just in order to get rid of some unwanted Vietnamese, we may as well forget about two systems.