Lawyers welcome small steps

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 June, 2006, 12:00am

Few benefit, and work may be for no fee

Hong Kong lawyers and barristers welcomed the latest steps to open mainland legal services to the city's lawyers as small but positive steps.

While Hong Kong lawyers qualified to practise on the mainland will now be able to act in matrimonial and succession cases 'relating to Hong Kong', this provision applies to only 23 people.

Of 758 who took the qualifying exam over the past two years, only eight passed. Another 15 passed the exam in 1995.

Also, while Hong Kong barristers will for the first time be able to represent clients in civil cases in mainland courts, it will be 'in the capacity of citizens'. Andrew Mak, of the Bar Association, said this may mean barristers doing such cases would have to act without fees.

'At the moment, the Chinese law as we understand it is if you're a lawyer you get paid, but if you are a citizen agent, then you have to do it pro bono,' Mr Mak said. 'We need to clarify whether other provisions allow us to charge ... we need to see the exact rules and the extent of liberalisation.'

Former Law Society president Simon Ip Shing-hing said the relaxation of residency and staffing requirements for Hong Kong lawyers in mainland branches were 'small steps forward' but much would depend on the exact regulations and implementation.

'For example, there are quite a number of Hong Kong residents with a mainland wife or some property on the mainland and they may use Hong Kong lawyers, but the lawyers have to pass this exam, which is a very big hurdle,' he said. 'And we need to clarify exactly what 'cases relating to Hong Kong' include. Is Hong Kong property covered as well?'

Mr Ip said the central government was 'very prudent' in its approach, and while the pace 'could be faster', it appeared 'an incremental approach' was preferred.

Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung called the measures breakthroughs. He said he had conveyed the view of the Bar Association and Law Society to the Ministry of Justice during his trip to Beijing in April.

'We are taking the first step and I hope we can develop further in the future, but we must go step by step,' he said.