My Take

Hong Kong Law Society president Ambrose Lam falls on own sword

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 4:45am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 4:45am

The overwhelming vote of no confidence last week against Ambrose Lam San-keung made his resignation yesterday as Law Society president inevitable. When you have such a large number of your constituents turning against you, there is no other viable option than to leave. The unprecedented no-confidence motion won the support of 2,392 society members with 1,478 against.

However, this does not mean Lam was necessarily wrong. What landed him in hot water was the statement he made on June 16 in support of the white paper issued by the State Council on Hong Kong's "one country, two systems". He characterised the controversial paper as a "positive" document that reiterated Hong Kong's judicial independence and autonomy. That was exactly the opposite conclusion of most but not all pan-democrats and many local lawyers. The Bar Association took a more nuanced view, but on balance concluded that the paper was more of a threat to, than a defence of, those principles.

By making his stance known, Lam made it the official position of the society before its council had time to draw up a considered response to the paper. Clearly that was unwise and arrogant of him. For this, he has now paid a heavy price. But was the paper really such a threat as its critics have alleged?

Experts as politically diverse as Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo, SC; Chatham House senior consulting fellow and former British diplomat Tim Summers; and associate law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who is co-founder of Occupy Central, have all agreed there was nothing really new in the paper, which summed up Beijing's long-standing position. Lawyers are trained to argue both sides. And indeed, you can argue with equal palpability that the white paper is a new threat to Hong Kong or that it's just old hat.

Are judges "administrators" like government officials and subject to Beijing's influence, or do they only "run" an independent branch of government within the Special Administrative Region? As patriots, do top judges have to love China and the Communist Party or merely have to uphold "one country, two systems", including the city's common law tradition?

In our toxic politics, partisans are not interested in nuances. They want blood. Now, Lam has fallen on his own sword.