The Law Society endorsed Beijing's contentious white paper on Hong Kong yesterday as a "positive" document that reiterated the special administrative region's judicial independence and high degree of autonomy.
The verdict of the society, which represents more than 7,400 solicitors, was in sharp contrast to the Bar Association's strongly worded response to the paper last Wednesday.
The association argued Beijing was mistaken in its view that judges were "administrators" like the chief executive and top officials who had a "basic political requirement" to love the country, and criticised the contention that judges should consider national security and China's interests.
The white paper, released by the State Council last week, emphasised Beijing's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong, and said its autonomy was subject to Beijing's authority.
Law Society president Ambrose Lam San-keung said he believed the Bar Association's criticism of the white paper arose from differing definitions of "administration".
"Broadly speaking, [the administration] includes the executive and legislative branches, as well as the judiciary," Lam said.
"If you look at the US and British administrations, it is very clear that [they follow that broad definition]," Lam said.
He believes that the Bar Association could have interpreted "administrators" narrowly to include only the executive branch.
But legal-sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok of the Civic Party said Lam was playing with words. "Lam wasn't founding his [argument] on the idea of separation of powers, but saying that the powers … have to cooperate and understand the Basic Law correctly," Kwok said.
Lam said the city's judicial independence would not be damaged by the white paper, but sidestepped the question of whether judges must consider the national interest in their rulings.
"Hong Kong is very special, and 'one country, two systems' is unprecedented, so the local and central governments have to grope for answers on many questions, and I don't have one for you," Lam told reporters.
He also accepted that swearing allegiance to Hong Kong, something already required of judges, might not satisfy Beijing's standard for patriotism. "Swearing allegiance is not some simple lip service," he said.
The Chinese Importers' and Exporters' Association and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries said yesterday businesses were not worried that the white paper would harm operations.