Cepa clears HK lawyers to work on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 12:00am

Cepa clears HK lawyers

Hong Kong lawyers will be allowed to practise mainland law under the free-trade pact to be signed at the end of the month.

A legal source has said that the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) between Hong Kong and the mainland will contain provisions for Hong Kong people to practise mainland law, subject to restrictions.

'They have to get a recognised mainland law degree and take an internship on the mainland,' the source said. 'After they have met these requirements, they will be qualified to sit the national lawyer examination.'

Hong Kong law firms will also be able to form associations with their mainland counterparts and may share premises but not profits. The arrangement can therefore provide a 'one-stop shop' for legal advice but does not allow joint ventures.

The residency requirement for lawyers will be reduced from six months to two. The source said it was not clear yet whether foreign nationals who are Hong Kong permanent residents will qualify.

An announcement in March last year was expected to give special privileges to Hong Kong practitioners, but they were disappointed. They currently face the same restrictions as foreign practitioners and may only give advice on Hong Kong or international law. They may not enter into partnerships with mainland firms.

While the conditions requiring a mainland law degree and the internship are more restrictive than lawyers had hoped for, this will be the first time overseas lawyers will be able to give advice on mainland legal matters and do legal work for businesses there.

It is not known whether the provisions will allow Hong Kong lawyers to appear in mainland courts or practise criminal law.

The source believed Cepa would have a clear definition of 'Hong Kong people', so any ambiguity should be cleared up over whether foreign nationals who are permanent residents are included.

Former Bar Association chairman and head of the Bar's special committee on mainland practice and relations, Alan Leong Kah-kit, said he would not take a position on the news until the government had made a formal announcement on final arrangements.

'As we do not know what final version this agreement is going to take, we can only keep our fingers crossed at the moment,' he said.