Time for impartial election advice from Bar and Law Society

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 5:09am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 8:44am

The lay public looking for guidance on electoral reforms from the city's two main legal bodies will be sorely disappointed. The row between the Bar Association and the Law Society has generated more heat than light.

Many people might have hoped to receive impartial expert opinions. As it turns out, not only do the two bodies disagree at a most fundamental level, their members can't seem to agree among themselves.

At issue is the acceptability of public nomination of candidates for election as chief executive under the Basic Law. Until recently, both bodies seemed to agree that it breaches the mini-constitution.

But last week, the Bar Association, which represents local barristers, issued a statement that the breach is only "technical", and that if the government wants to reject public nomination, it must find an alternative that substantially matches it in terms of democratic representation. Otherwise, the association warned that officials would be guilty of abusing the rule of law. This is debatable. While following the letter of the law - that is, doing so technically - is not the same as fulfilling its spirit, it does not equate to an abuse of the rule of law. In any case, the Bar could have been more helpful to provide an alternative that is equivalent but not the same as public nomination.

In his rebuttal, Law Society president Ambrose Lam San-keung - who represents solicitors - said the Bar was pandering to political pressure by backtracking on its previous position. That in turn has led to internal criticism of Lam among some of the association's members, who have tabled a motion of no confidence against him.

When our own legal experts are going at each other's throats, the rest of us may be forgiven for being confused about the constitutionality of public nomination. A joint statement spelling out the various interpretations, positions and options may be more helpful at this time.