The Law Society yesterday passed a historic vote of no confidence in its president for his remarks backing Beijing's recent white paper on Hong Kong.
A no-confidence motion in Ambrose Lam San-keung was passed by a wide margin, with 2,392 votes for and 1,478 against.
The rules of the Law Society do not state that a president must resign if a vote of no confidence is passed.
"Tonight there's no winner or loser for the Law Society," a stony-faced Lam said after the meeting, without indicating whether or not he would resign.
"All along I felt this was an internal matter for the Law Society and I have kept a low profile on this ... I hope we can stay united," he said as he got into his car surrounded by journalists.
He repeated the call for unity in a later statement.
The Law Society members who initiated yesterday's vote fought back tears as they announced their victory.
Kevin Yam Kin-fung, one of the three who tabled the motion of no confidence, said: "We have witnessed one of the most unexpected results in the history of Hong Kong professional bodies.
"But this is not a time for celebration. It is a time for relief, but also a time for sadness and vigilance. Sadness over the grotesque political interference by outside machinery throughout the process despite this being an internal matter."
He urged Lam to respect the result and step down.
It was the first time the 9,000-strong society had met to debate a motion of no confidence against a president.
Lam has been under fire since June when, speaking on behalf of the society, he expressed support for Beijing's controversial white paper, which is seen as a threat to Hong Kong's judicial independence.
The white paper referred to judges as "administrators" and said they had to be "patriotic".
Some 1,800 barristers and solicitors marched in protest against the document.
A second resolution called on the Law Society to issue a statement that the rule of law and judicial independence are Hong Kong's core values and should not be undermined by the white paper. The motion was passed by 2,747 votes in favour and 1,186 against.
A third one that asked Lam to withdraw his statements on the white paper was also passed, with 2,574 votes for and 1,367 against.
About 1,000 solicitors showed up at Southorn Stadium in Wan Chai, where the meeting was held. The remainder of the ballots were proxy votes.
Those who turned up included five past presidents of the society: Huen Wong, Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, Ambrose Lau Hon-chuen, Roderick Woo Bun and Donald Yap. Ho and Lau said they would vote in favour of Lam.
More than 10 members from each camp spoke during the hour-long, closed-door meeting but Lam remained silent.
There had been complaints from solicitors that they received calls from clients with mainland links indicating a preference for Lam to prevail. Lawyers in some firms were asked to give the meeting's chairman proxy ballots to vote in favour of Lam.
The results showed that the majority of the proxy votes were against Lam.