Juggling legal egos has its challenges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am

In court, lawyers fight hard against one another to win over a judge. Just imagine the task of unifying thousands of them into one body.

Patrick Moss, who retired last month as the secretary general of the Law Society after almost 15 years in the post, spoke of the challenges. 'It's quite a stressful job,' he said.

Mr Moss, who worked with nine presidents of the society, added: 'Behind the throne, people had to do a lot of running around. You've got also to keep the council members happy.'

Different views were often advanced within the society. There was also a small group which was anti-society, while the vast majority were silent, he said.

The first big challenge confronting the secretary general was the controversy surrounding the number of overseas judges sitting on the Court of Final Appeal cases after the handover.

'The profession was quite divided over this. There were lots of protests and marches from lawyers who wanted to have more overseas judges. They felt there should be more than one overseas judge to balance any pressure that local judges were placed upon following the handover,' he said. The society's council was of the view that one overseas judge in each Court of Final Appeal case would suffice.

Without an agreement, the court would not have been set up in time for the handover.

The urgency of the matter was such that the Law Society council had to call an annual general meeting a week before Christmas, when booking a large function room in Central was almost impossible.

In the end, it managed to secure three rooms in the Mandarin Oriental.

'They were sufficient to allow 350 to turn up, but more than 800 turned up. The meeting had to be adjourned,' he said.

'There had never been as many people at a Law Society AGM before. Normally it was a handful if you were lucky. But on this occasion, the feelings were running high.'

The meeting was eventually held in Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai, where the council's view prevailed.

Mr Moss, from Oxfordshire, England, arrived in Hong Kong in 1977 to join the Legal Aid Department, working his way up from a junior officer to the director of legal aid.

His departure from the department in 1992 was widely believed to have been linked to his granting of legal aid to Vietnamese boatpeople to mount lawsuits against the government.

'The government was not happy ... but I can't say if that was the reason that my contract was not renewed,' he said. 'In hindsight, I am glad it happened because I think I had had enough of legal aid after 15 years.'