Lawyers told to speak up on court bill
By SO LAI-FUN
THE Law Society's president has warned members that failing to give their opinions of the draft bill for the Court of Final Appeal will be regarded as acceptance of recommendations made by the society's council.
The 20-member council is expected to decide the Law Society's formal stance on the draft bill today, but some members have said only a referendum or an extraordinary general meeting has the mandate to decide an issue with such a far-reaching impact on the territory.
But, in a letter distributed to members, president Roderick Woo Bun said if they did not pick up their pens and return the questionnaires they had been given, they were tacitly supporting the council's proposals.
He said since few members had taken part in the consultation exercise, it was 'tempting and perhaps not unreasonable for the council to interpret this as a willingness on your part to leave the task of giving a response to the administration with council'.
Some solicitors were taken aback by the letter, saying it was a move to brush aside members' calls for a more representative way to reach a position on the draft bill.
They said it was tantamount to giving the proposal the go-ahead.
But slightly more than 100 questionnaires of the 3,000 issued had been returned.
And only 25 solicitors attended a members' forum on the bill.
Mr Woo said he took it that members were 'not adverse to the preliminary views of the council expressed in my letter'.
The council's view, as set out in a consultation paper sent to members two weeks ago, represents a departure from its previous opposition to the 1991 Sino-British Joint Liaison Group deal.
In the paper, Mr Woo said the council proposed improving the bill to make the court's composition more flexible, without breaching the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group's agreement.
It could be done through enlarging the category of permanent judges by recruiting from overseas, in line with Article 92 of the Basic Law.
Last night, the leader of a campaign to convene an extraordinary general meeting on the issue, Daniel Wong Kwok-tung, disputed Mr Woo's assertions and described the whole consultation process as the council's 'game'.
A resolution has been drafted for the extraordinary meeting, saying the society should maintain its opposition to the 1991 Sino-British deal and support amendments to the draft bill, bringing it in line with the Basic Law and enabling it to be set up before 1997.
Last night, Democrat solicitor Albert Ho Chun-yan was busy lobbying for the 50 signatures required to convene an extraordinary meeting by December 20.