HKU law school founding teacher and former district judge Bernard Downey dies
Many of his first students became legends of the Hong Kong bar, family says
A founding teacher at Hong Kong’s first law school, who went on to serve as a district judge for more than a decade, died in Britain on Monday. He was 82.
Bernard Downey joined the founding body of the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Law in 1969 and dedicated years to teaching before serving as a district judge from 1980 until his retirement in 1994.
A family member told the Post that many of Downey’s students had become “legends of the Hong Kong bar”, some of whom he had maintained lifelong friendships with.
Downey taught law at the London School of Economics from 1958 to 1966 before coming to Hong Kong.
Out of concern that the progress of legal education was slow, he joined the founding dean, Professor Dafydd Evans, and Professor John Rear when the school was still in a makeshift home in the Chinese Merchandise Building and the old Central police station.
“Hong Kong [University] gave us an opportunity to start fresh – nothing was holding us back,” the former senior lecturer told the Post in 2009.
In 1980, the same year that he joined the judiciary, Downey donated funds to the university for the award of two prizes that later became the Bernard Downey Scholarship, with additional funding from a group of alumni.
Former lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC, who was in the school’s first cohort, said he was very upset to hear of his professor’s passing.
He recalled that Downey was among the three founding professors who interviewed and admitted him when he applied to the law school.
“I came first in class, and there were no scholarships then, but he contributed funds to buy books for me,” Tong said. “We all respect him.”
Current university law professor Albert Chen Hung-yee said he was sad to hear of his teacher’s death. “He was the first generation of law teachers at HKU’s school, the first law school in Hong Kong,” he said.
Former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross SC said Downey was a hardworking judge who could be entrusted with difficult cases.
“His judgments were always carefully reasoned,” he said. “He was a no-nonsense sort of judge, with whom counsel trifled at their peril.”