• Thu
  • Sep 18, 2014
  • Updated: 4:57pm
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 2014, 2:46am

Hong Kong's lawyers must speak out on sensitive issues

Cliff Buddle says the legal community must continue to speak out on sensitive issues, such as the white paper, to help protect the rule of law

Law and politics are not supposed to mix, but it is often difficult to separate one from the other. Over the years, Hong Kong's legal community has played an important role in defending the rule of law and, in doing so, commenting on politically sensitive issues.

Tomorrow, some members of the profession will take part in a rare protest march, the third of its kind since the handover. This time, the march is in support of judicial independence in light of the central government's recent white paper on Hong Kong. The document raised concerns by classifying judges as administrators with a "basic political requirement" to love the country.

The protest gives lawyers a chance to signal their support for the independence of our judges, a hallmark of the "one country, two systems" concept. It will be attended by barristers and solicitors, but their respective professional organisations have reacted very differently to the controversy.

The Bar Association, representing barristers, responded swiftly and sharply to the white paper, issuing a strong statement defending the rule of law and judicial independence. In contrast, Ambrose Lam San-keung, president of the Law Society, representing solicitors, said he saw the white paper as a positive document that reaffirmed the judiciary's independence. His comments have, not surprisingly, sparked a backlash by some solicitors and Lam is now facing a no-confidence motion.

It is not the first time the two bodies have differed. When the Law Society issued a paper on legal aspects of the universal suffrage debate, Lam refused to comment on questions such as whether the public could recommend candidates for election or whether there should be a cap on the number of candidates, saying he did not want to be drawn into a political wrestling match. (The Bar had stated there was no legal impediment to public recommendation.)

Concerns about commenting on political issues have not, however, prevented Lam from condemning the Occupy Central movement, calling on the US to reveal its snooping operations in Hong Kong, or speaking out on Sino-Vietnamese tensions.

There is a perception that solicitors, many of whom work for law firms doing business on the mainland, are reluctant to say anything that might offend the central government, while barristers are more willing to speak out.

But it is dangerous to generalise, as the reaction of some solicitors to Lam's comments on the white paper shows. Not all barristers support the Bar Association's often outspoken stance and not all solicitors agree with the position adopted by the Law Society. I doubt, however, that any would disagree with supporting the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

The Bar and Law Society can make a valuable contribution to public debates on sensitive issues that touch on the law. Their expertise and perceived objectivity means their views can carry great weight. They should speak out in defence of our legal system when it appears to be under threat.

After all, if lawyers are not going to stand up for the rule of law, who will?

Cliff Buddle is the Post's editor, special projects


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This article is now closed to comments

“They should speak out in defence of our legal system
when it appears to be under threat”
But whether a legal system is under threat isn’t a legal question
Every legal system must follow and not lead social development
The city runs a colonial version of England’s common law system
which, however good it might be, isn’t practiced even in Scotland
In England where there isn’t separation of government powers
the court is part of the government bureaucracy, OHMS
experienced and able lawyers are anointed as QC
US judges are subjected to retention election
Only in HK’s copycat common law system
shibboleths, such as RoL, JI, …
which are idealized for propaganda purposes in the west
are mistaken as practical standards for universal application
The city’s legal system is most threatened
by its grievous proportionality deficit
Jerky lawyers troubled by paranoia are symptoms of an unsound legal system
Before lawyers speak on sensitive issues
they may first learn to talk about everyday practical issues
Every afternoon RTHK runs a 2 hours+ medical program
where doctors talk ably and professionally on diagnosis and treatments
In contrast, in HK legal education programs,
lawyers seem less credible than stereotypical used car salespeople
Simply pathetic
Nothing to compare with legal education programs in the US
Copycats uncertain of their professional perimeters
know not what to say for lack of originality

So when are we going to hear those barristers and solicitors who castigating the white paper stand up for all aspects of the "rule of law" and insist on full implementation of article 23 of the Basic Law, concerning national security?
These guys are hypocrites. They cherry pick only the bits of the Basic Law they like.
I wish they do. But most of them aren’t capable even they want to. Unlike in US, lawyers as a profession are the next kin to politics nationally or locally. It is naturally so for a civil society that ideas agree or disagree are best to be express in words. The lawyers are good at that.
Hong Kong law profession like all other professions is apolitical. They are as numb as the rest when comes to social issues. The pull is just too great to the extraordinary amount of money they can make in practicing commercial law. They certainly this time will march again when their own livelihood is threatened.
Don’t expect they are fighting for anything else because they are incapable to do so. When they do speak up on sensitive issues, they just bring embracement to themselves.
Lam is a disgrace. He has used the Law Society for his own agenda. Why has he commented on matters such as spying, and foreign policy matters but refused to comment on judicial independence? He has tarred all solicitors by his selfish actions. In the past, the Law Society commented on constitutional and rule of law issues but did not comment on political matters as any political activity was regarded as a personal matter for individual solicitors. Lam has politicized the Law Society under his presidency. The Law Society Council must become more active and pre-approve his comments as he has shown that he cannot be trusted about pursuing his own agenda against the common interests of all solicitors. It would be better for him to go as he is in reality severely damaged goods at this point and the Law Society's standing needs to be rebuilt by a new President.
Please support the protest march!!!


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