SOLICITORS who refuse politically sensitive cases could have their licences suspended under a new code of conduct. The rules are being introduced after Legislative Councillor Martin Lee Chu-ming's difficulty in finding a firm to handle a libel action against former Appeal Court judge Simon Li Fook-sean, an adviser to China. The Law Society said introduction of the revision would make it a pioneer in common law jurisdiction around the world. It said it was unethical to reject any prospective client on the grounds of his or her political beliefs. Law firms are being consulted about the code of conduct which will take effect at the end of the year. About 190 of Hong Kong's 400 law firms have returned their questionnaires and some two-thirds said they were prepared to take cases involving sensitive issues. Law Society president Roderick Woo Bun said Mr Lee's difficulties had created concern among some sections of the public. People feared that ''unpopular'' individuals or politically sensitive causes might be denied proper legal representation. In July, Mr Lee, the chairman of the United Democrats of Hong Kong, said at least 18 law firms had refused to take on his libel suit against Mr Li, a leading figure in the Beijing-appointed group working on the first post-1997 administration. The legislator and fellow activist Szeto Wah are suing Mr Li over remarks he allegedly made in Beijing about the pair's behaviour during the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests of 1989. ''The Law Society is aware of the public concern that access to legal services might be frustrated by discrimination,'' Mr Woo said. ''To allay any anxiety which may now exist, the Council of the Law Society has decided to adopt a recommendation made by its Guidance Committee to widen the scope of anti-discriminatory measure now in force.'' The proposal follows concern expressed by the former chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, Anthony Scrivener. He called for practical steps to be taken in Hong Kong to stop lawyers being able to avoid taking up cases for political reasons. The Times newspaper reported him as saying that legislation should be introduced restricting the rights of solicitors to refuse cases on political grounds and said the Bar Council should permit a barrister to act as a solicitor. The Law Society could be required to nominate a firm to act or to establish an ad hoc firm of solicitors to act in a particular case, he said. Under Hong Kong's new code of conduct, any refusal to act in a case must not be based on the race, colour, ethnic or national origins, sex, religious beliefs or political beliefs of the prospective client. However, the deputy president of the Law Society, Patrick Sherrington, admitted the new code of conduct would not solve all the problems. ''Lawyers will have legitimate reasons to refuse cases,'' he said. ''And enforcement is always difficult but that doesn't make the rule less virtuous. It is a rule of conduct, something for solicitors to live up to.'' Mr Woo said implementation of the rule depended very much on public complaints. ''If the client has reason to believe that he is discriminated against, he should complain to us. We can investigate and ask the solicitor to give reasons for refusal,'' he said. ''If he is found to be in breach of the rule, he will be subject to disciplinary action. The heaviest sanction will be suspension of one's licence.''