Bar to speak out on tough legal issues

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am

The incoming chairman of the Bar Association says the body will not let controversy deter it from commenting on legal issues of public interest.

Russell Coleman, SC, said the association would comment only on legal questions arising from public affairs or legislation, but it was inevitable that those comments may affect social, economic and political issues.

Mr Coleman, who is the only candidate for chairman, will be formally elected on Thursday.

'The Bar has come to be a body that commands public respect in the expression of its views, and it is one of the bodies that will be consulted - and might be expected to comment - on a number of matters of public interest,' he said, acknowledging that those matters could be controversial.

'The Bar will continue to be careful to express its views in areas where it can express with some competence, namely the legal areas. That they may be perceived as impacting on other areas is, in a sense, not the point. The Bar should be speaking out on legal positions.'

However, he stressed that he would merely be continuing a tradition set by his predecessors. In the past year, under the chairmanship of Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, the association has issued statements reiterating the importance of an independent judiciary, and that lawyers have a social, ethical and professional duty to guard human rights.

Last week, the Bar also questioned the compatibility of functional constituencies with principles of universal suffrage. It urged the government to put forward a reform proposal that 'would eventually lead to the total abolition of functional constituencies'.

Mr Coleman said he was not yet an expert in this area but understood it was a matter of public importance. 'It's one of the things that I will be looking closely at,' he said.

His expertise in arbitration and mediation is expected to serve him well in working with the government and judiciary to develop alternative systems of dispute resolution, while advocacy training will be one of his priorities.

'No profession should ever rest on its laurels,' he said, adding that new solicitors' rights to appear in higher courts will ensure barristers maintain, or improve, their advocacy standards.