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  • Jul 22, 2014
  • Updated: 10:01pm
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Faculties should be 'diplomatic', says HKU's new law dean Michael Hor Yew Meng

Blunt academics have their place, says the new dean of HKU's law faculty, Michael Hor - but the faculties should be more tactful

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 5:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 5:43am

Michael Hor Yew Meng could not have taken up his post as one of Hong Kong's most high-profile legal intellectuals at a more chaotic time for the city.

Hor became dean of the University of Hong Kong's faculty of law a day after hundreds of thousands of democracy supporters attended the July 1 march - and just hours after more than 500 protesters were arrested for holding a sit-in at Chater Road in a rehearsal for Occupy Central.

If such large-scale action wasn't eye-opening enough for Hor - who cited a recent 20,000-strong gay rights protest as a "huge event" in his home city of Singapore - he can be assured that far more is likely to happen in the five years he has committed to the city's oldest law school.

Hor, formerly a professor at the National University of Singapore, admits it is "difficult" for him to answer the question of how tolerant society should be towards protesters pursuing what they see as the social good.

"On the one hand, it's what the demonstrators feel to be the long-term benefit or the very identity of Hong Kong that is at stake. So I think they would reasonably feel this should take priority over almost everything else.

"On the other hand, demonstrators have to be concerned about keeping public order, keeping the businesses running, keeping the taxis running, the buses running, people getting to work, keeping the wheels of finance turning."

Hor's appointment - succeeding the well-respected Johannes Chan Man-mun, who has been in the job since 2002 - raised some eyebrows. The Civic Party chairwoman and former Bar Association chairwoman Audrey Eu Yuet-mee was among those expressing reservations about Hor's lack of familiarity with Hong Kong.

Hor acknowledges he has work ahead of him: "I have decided actually to stand back for the moment to learn more what's going on here. Of course I do roughly know the positions - I think I need more time to get a sense of the emotions. That's more difficult."

To be as politically outspoken as his predecessor Chan - who co-founded Hong Kong 2020 with former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang to collect views about constitutional reform - would be an impossible task for Hor, at least for now.

"We are different people. I think almost definitely I'll be a different dean because I certainly do not have Johannes' capabilities. I admire Johannes tremendously. In fact, I have for many years been inspired by what he is doing - the sort of moral positions he is brave enough to express. He is what an academic should be - an academic should not be a colourless person.

"I'm of course a little different, in the sense I come from outside. I think eventually, given enough time, I will become more like an insider - but not yet."

Hor pledges to "preserve the fundamental atmosphere of the freedom of expression" and "the freedom of faculty and students to adopt and express views in accordance with what they think is right".

He believes his law school, with "some of the brightest minds in Hong Kong", can provide solutions on tricky issues, such as universal suffrage.

He has regional ambitions, too. "I want HKU to be the place that any country in Asia thinks of immediately when they're thinking of legal excellence - just as when anybody thinks of the best law schools in the world they think of Harvard and Yale."

He cites human rights and financial law as particularly big issues for emerging Asian markets such as Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

Hor likes to talk about "synergy", as both an academic and political force. He sees a synergy emerging with his home country - as Singapore focuses on laws in Southeast Asian countries, he says Hong Kong can focus on East Asian laws, particularly laws on the mainland.

"I see so much potential for Hong Kong and [mainland] China to cooperate - in all respects, because nothing remains the same in Hong Kong and nothing remains the same in China."

He has noticed much change in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover.

"It's this political awakening that's ... the most strikingly different," says Hor. "Before the handover there was hardly any activity of this kind, any consciousness of this kind. After the handover, people do care. In the past, the thinking was, you know, 'I can make money, I don't care what else happens here'."

While he has travelled to Hong Kong "many times", he has only made two visits to the mainland - once in 1992 and once last year. "There was a world of difference. It's clearly a world power now," he says.

Hor prefers "diplomacy" in discussing human rights on the mainland.

"I think this has to be done very delicately because just as Hong Kong does not like China telling it what to do, China certainly would not like Hong Kong telling it what to do. So I think talks have to be on a very respectful basis.

"We have all kinds of academics here - diplomatic academics, blunt academics. Academically, each academic has to establish his own style. I think there's a place for bluntness, there's a place for diplomacy. But as a faculty, I think you have to play more diplomatically. We have to step carefully because we don't want people to shut us up."

Hor is an avid traveller, and says the mainland also appeals to him in this respect. Scuba-diving destinations such as Okinawa and Palau are also high on his list.

"My policy is: anywhere is worth going to at least once."

And perhaps his hidden tip for interesting travel: go at the most chaotic time, when uncertainty is the only thing certain.


Michael Hor

Age 53

- Bachelor of Laws, National University of Singapore, 1984
- Bachelor of Civil Law, University of Oxford, 1990
- Master of Laws, University of Chicago, 1998

1984-88: Government legal officer in Singapore
1988-2014: Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
Present: Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong


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In reply to ignorant loud-mouths
Civil law is intellectual and meaningful to be perused as an academic discipline
Common law is a system of control the practice of which is taught as a vocation
Some US law schools are reducing JD to a two-year program
Scott Turow famously holds that One-L is sufficient
Some of HK’s legal doyens had only one or two-year formal training
Some qualified thru apprenticeship after matriculation
Is there any PhD among the nine in US Supreme Court?
How many Law Lords have more than three years’ undergraduate legal training?
Common law practitioners are legal technicians not scientists of jurisprudence
The academia has little influence, if at all, on common law practice
The most important common law lesson is precedence
i.e., obey those above you in the judicial hierarchy
Prof Hor is over qualified as the dean of HKU law faculty
compared with his predecessor, Judicialisation Chan
Let’s see if the new dean may put some senses
in Funny Tai, the unlearned navel-gazing idiot
who is no better than Joshua Wong
as a “scholar”
Prof Hor Ym imparts a breath of fresh air
after a decade and more of stale shibboleths
His preference for diplomacy is evident in the subtlety
with which he seems to be telling us that his predecessor in title is stupid
For the remain of scalped common law’s life in the city
for those too thick to appreciate the definitive jurisprudence
with which James I authoritatively quieted self-conceited Edward Coke
there is the need to face honestly the realities of common law
De-mystify the law in affected practice and make books like
“The Politics of Common Law”, Adam Geary et al
a reader for our Form 5 or 6 students
Prof Hor may also wish to enlighten HKers
about the right priority of social development
with the wisdom of Singapore’s philosopher king
Lee Ky’s ORDER and law
and not law and Order
1) Why is this filed under Occupy Central when other than one non-consequential remark the article does not discuss Occupy Central?
2) Suffrage and self-determination are human rights that Hor would be well reminded to keep at the fore of this thoughts.
3) What Hor discusses here sounds like collaboration with an undemocratic regime, i.e., "don't rock the boat", and then maybe the authoritarian regime will through you some treats like selecting the token pan-democratic you can vote for like the last CE election.
It is so sad that this kind of CV can be the dean of HKU law school! Nothing against Mr. Hor personally but his CV and experience truely can't make him a fully qualified dean for HKU law school. Why? Under 1-country 2 system, all law students need to study basic law and a firm understanding of the source of law in Mainland China, Mr. Hor admitted that he only travelled to China two time in his life, he will have absolute no idea of the implication and development in China and the implication of legal development in Hong Kong. Academically, his CV is not impressive at all. For legal practice, he only has 4 year experience working as legal officer in Singapore Government and then he switched his career to National Singapore University, he is more a "Civil Servant" type experience. Did he ever "fight" in courts in difficult legal cases? Did he ever do anything to contribute to the legal development in Singapore? With all respect, Singapore is more a control-country in terms of media, government and civil rights, what is Mr. Hor's value system and belief? I am also sad that we can't find good talent in legal profession in Hong Kong who would like to take this important job. Once again, we prove again Hong Kong is moving backward and we don't have local talent to do this important job! Disappointed and sad!
Also agree. HKU is downgrading itself, or it really cannot find someone with the right qualification and politically acceptable background to fill this position.
Agree. He doesn't even have a PhD. How is he going to supervise PhD students in his Faculty? No evidence of a high administrative role in National University of Singapore either, and suddenly he is Dean of the Law Faculty in HK.


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