Bar Association votes to scrap its ban on members advertising
Yvonne Tsui and Albert Wong
Hong Kong's barristers are free to publicise their services on television, in newspapers, on the internet or in other media - in an appropriate manner - after the Bar Association voted yesterday to drop its absolute ban on advertising.
After the association's annual general meeting, new chairman Russell Coleman announced that the advertising ban had been removed from its Code of Conduct.
Acknowledging that outsiders sometimes perceived the Bar as a 'cloistered profession and a little out of touch', Mr Coleman said he hoped the reform would help dispel that impression.
The removal of the ban has been discussed in the past, but it received renewed impetus after a recent Court of Appeal ruling against a similar ban for doctors.
Some barristers abstained from the vote, Mr Coleman said, possibly because while conservative barristers might not have personally agreed that advertising was proper, they did not want to obstruct the amendment to the code.
As of today, barristers can distribute promotional material in any form, in any area of the media.
Their adverts can carry profile photographs, the nature of legal services they provide, their qualifications and affiliations, cases in which they have been involved, the identity of clients for whom they have acted, and their fee scale. However, a new section will be inserted into the code to ensure advertisements are not 'inaccurate, unverifiable or likely to mislead' - and do not bring the profession into disrepute.
The association will be empowered to ask barristers to verify claims they make in promotional materials.
Restrictions remain in the code against the wearing of wigs and gowns outside court premises. This means barristers will not be able to promote themselves on the streets while dressed in their full regalia.
The new chairman acknowledged that the profession's previous desire not to draw attention to itself might have been due to stringent controls on anything that could be deemed to be advertising. Barristers might now be more likely to draw attention to significant cases in which they had been involved.
Mr Coleman said he knew that some chambers had already begun searching for experts to help them set up websites.
He said the reform, which would improve the public's access to information about the profession, would be an 'important way of assisting the administration of justice in Hong Kong'.
The long-standing ban on Hong Kong barristers advertising has been dropped
The number of practising members in the Bar Association, as of March 2007, the most recent figure available, was: 993
Source: Hong Kong Bar Association