Lawyer and fighter for rights Brook Bernacchi dies at 74

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 1996, 12:00am

Brook Bernacchi, Hong Kong's longest standing and most senior member of the Bar, founder of one of its oldest political groups and one of its longest serving Urban Councillors, has died of a brain tumour at the age of 74.

Brook Bernacchi, OBE, QC, was famous to many people in Hong Kong for his tireless push for direct elections to the Urban Council and spent his political life arguing for the rights of the individual citizen.

Born in 1922, he was called to the Bar in Britain in 1943 before arriving here with the Royal Marines as part of the liberation forces in 1945. He stayed on, joining the Hong Kong Bar in 1946 and became a Queen's Counsel in 1960.

He was involved in grassroots politics, setting up the Reform Club in 1948 with one of his closest friends and another firm campaigner for the underdog, Elsie Elliott (now Elsie Tu). Its main aim was public housing for all, as thousands of people flooded into Hong Kong, fleeing the Communist uprising in China.

'Conditions here were horrifying then,' he said in 1990. 'There was no social welfare, very little in the way of education and as late as 1952 the Government was flatly refusing to contribute anything towards a housing situation rapidly reaching crisis point in the face of the influx of refugees.' He joined the Urban Council in 1952 as one of its elected members and gained a reputation for outspokenness. He had some tough words for its appointed members, including chairman A de O Sales, whom he accused of running a 'ridiculous organisation with a bunch of government yes men' in the 1980s.

He stepped down in 1981, saying he wanted 'no more to do with it' when the Government drew back from a pledge of universal suffrage.

He was back two years later, and though he lost the election in 1986, he won again in 1989.

He was chairman of the Reform Club for more than 40 years and helped set up various groups including the Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers and the Discharged Prisoners Aid Society.

He was one of two foreigners named in the first batch of Hong Kong advisers to China in 1994.

In 1948 he became the first Westerner to settle on Lantau, where he set up the tea plantation at Ngong Ping next to the Po Lin monastery.

He developed a brain tumour in 1961 which was diagnosed as benign but which left him with impaired use of his left arm and a limp.

In later years he insisted on attending every opening of the Legal Year in spite of his illness.