Joining the judiciary on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2012, 5:35am

Becoming a judge in Hong Kong and on the mainland are two very different things.

Over the border, law graduates take two separate training paths to be judges or lawyers. Any Chinese citizen who is over 23, has a postgraduate degree in law, has passed the civil service and judicial exams and, by unwritten rule, is a Communist Party member can become a judge after a one-year traineeship.

Those who want a more lucrative career as a lawyer must first get a place in a law firm on the mainland, said Professor Gu Minkang, associate law dean at City University. Gu said although mainland judges were "relatively younger" than their Hong Kong peers, some of them had experience working as lawyers.

But it's unclear whether the mainland system helps guarantee a sufficient supply of judges. Gu said there seemed to be a stable pool of candidates, but former Law Society president Wong Kwai-huen said exceptionally low pay meant fewer graduates were willing to take up the job.

The South China Morning Post reported last year that, according to official data, the mainland had about 300,000 court staff, of whom 193,000 are judges. Most of these judges - 148,000 - work in so-called grass-roots courts at the county level or below, handling 9.34 million cases last year, or about 90 per cent of the total court system caseload.

In Hong Kong, the Basic Law is not likely to accommodate any changes to the recruitment practice for judges. Article 81 states: "The judicial system previously practised in Hong Kong [prior to handover] shall be maintained."