Law Society wants mainland exam scrapped due to poor pass rate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2011, 12:00am

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After seven years of 'appalling' pass rates, the Law Society has called on Beijing to do away with the exam Hong Kong lawyers must take to practice law on the mainland.

The move follows the release of a study on the development of law practices in the Pearl River Delta commissioned by the society and carried out by Sun Yat-sen University.

The study concluded that, with more than half of foreign investment in Guangdong coming from Hong Kong, there was a need for lawyers qualified in both jurisdictions.

Only 66 Hong Kong lawyers have passed the national judicial examination - the first step any lawyer who wishes to practice mainland law must take. Last year's pass rate was 14 per cent, against the 1 per cent rate in 2004 when Hong Kong citizens were first allowed to take the exam.

Until 2008, not a single Hong Kong practicing lawyer passed. Law Society president Huen Wong said that most successful candidates were originally from the mainland, and had lived in Hong Kong less than a decade.

Between 20 per cent to 25 per cent of mainland Chinese pass the exam.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, the society's vice-president and chairman of its mainland legal affairs committee, did not pass the exam. Ho said not having completed a law degree on the mainland meant he had missed out on certain cultural 'fundamentals'.

Even if Hong Kong candidates pass the exam they are still unable to practice certain areas of law on the mainland such as litigation and criminal matters. Another criticism was that many of the subjects studied were irrelevant to the exam.

In most cases, a Hong Kong firm on the mainland only needs someone to advise on mainland commercial law, Wong said. A special exam should exist with fewer topics and consequently less areas of the law that can be practiced.

'The first two years were actually an embarrassment,' Wong said.

'[The exam is] difficult but certainly not impossible. But we ask: why does the mainland make it so difficult when it doesn't even allow us to practice in many areas anyway?'

He suggested that Hong Kong lawyers could study specific areas of mainland law and obtain licences that restricted practice to these fields.

Wong said the society had held 'encouraging' talks on these proposals with the Ministry of Justice in Beijing last week. Meanwhile, the results of the study and policy proposals have been submitted to the Hong Kong Department of Justice and the ministry's Shenzhen department.

If concessions are not granted under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between the mainland and Hong Kong, the society would apply to have them accepted in Qianhai, the new Pearl River port city under development in Shenzhen that will enjoy a greater degree of administrative independence.