Chief justice laments rise of greedy lawyers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am

Mercenary considerations had assumed greater prominence than ethical standards in the legal profession, the chief justice said yesterday.

'In this competitive environment, commercial pressures have led to the profession becoming more like a business,' Andrew Li Kwok-nang said at a 20th Biennial LawAsia Conference session on ethics.

'The virtue of the profession, which distinguishes it from a business, is that in its practice, the selfish pursuit of economic success is tempered by adherence to ethical standards and a concern for the public good,' he said. 'But this virtue has been eroded. To put it bluntly, mercenary considerations have assumed much greater prominence at the expense of ethical standards.'

Mr Justice Li cited the case of a client who asked his lawyer for a breakdown of his bill. The itemised account included a charge for 'recognising you in the street and crossing the busy road to talk to you to discuss your affairs, and recrossing the road after discovering it was not you'.

The judge said courts in Hong Kong could help the profession in upholding high ethical standards by having the power over admission of lawyers and appointment of members to disciplinary tribunals. The courts should also give appropriate weight to decisions of the Disciplinary Tribunal.

'The tribunal ... is well placed to judge whether the lawyer concerned has fallen below the required ethical standards and, if so, the appropriate penalty.

'But it must be remembered the courts ... are the ultimate arbiters in matters concerning professional discipline. The courts have the final responsibility of ensuring that the public interest is protected by the maintenance of high ethical standards.'

The chief justice said there must also be a proper mechanism for dealing with complaints against judges.

'Although many complaints would not justify disciplinary proceedings, they may merit some advice to the judge concerned as to how the matter could have been better dealt with. And in such circumstances, it may be appropriate to issue a reply to the complainant accepting that the matter could have been better handled by the judge ... and, where appropriate, expressing regret or tendering an apology.'