Tragic, say lawyers stunned by colleagues' fall from grace

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

The downfall of two veteran criminal lawyers sentenced to jail yesterday shocked the legal community, with some asking whether the penalty was too harsh.

Bar Council vice-chairman Clive Grossman said he was surprised barrister Kevin Egan had been given an immediate custodial sentence. Egan's bail was revoked on Thursday after being extended after his conviction on Monday on two counts of attempting to disclose the identity of a person in the witness protection programme.

'I am really sorry a person like Kevin Egan had to go to prison and to fall from grace to such an extent. He is a good lawyer and has done a huge amount of work for the promotion of criminal law in Hong Kong,' he said.

Mr Grossman, who also chairs the Bar Association's disciplinary committee, said that if necessary, Egan's case would be referred to the committee after his appeal.

The committee would have to study Chief District Judge Barnabas Fung Wah's judgment before deciding whether to allow Egan to continue practising at the Bar. If Egan was found to have lied in his testimony, that would influence the committee's decision, he said.

'It is a wake-up call to members of the Bar to maintain a high standard of practice and integrity,' Mr Grossman said. 'At the end of the day, it is an issue of honesty.'

Barrister Daniel Marash said Egan's sentence seemed very heavy compared with those of the other three defendants, who received between 2? and four years after being convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice - a charge Egan was acquitted of. He said it was be likely Egan would be struck off as a barrister with such a sentence.

Egan's counsel and good friend, John McNamara, told Mr Justice Fung on Thursday that he would provoke 'public outrage' if he sent Egan to jail for breaching the Witness Protection Ordinance, in what he said was a precedent-setting case. But the judge said the offence was serious as it carried a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail.

The younger brother of solicitor Andrew Lam Ping-cheung, 54, who attended yesterday's sentencing with other family members, also described his brother's four-year term as too harsh. 'We will definitely appeal,' he said.

Lam's lawyers yesterday said he was prepared for the sentence after being convicted on Monday.

Another barrister said it was a tragedy to see two lawyers renowned for defending cases brought by the Independent Commission Against Corruption jailed.

'It is a tragedy for society. The ICAC is not perfect and can sometimes be over the top. You need guys like these to perform a check-and-balance function on the commission,' he said.

Law Society member Simon Ip Shing-hing said Lam's conviction was a shame as he had worked enthusiastically for society. He said Lam resigned as chairman of the society's criminal law committee before the trial.