Daniel Fung panel took three years to form

A disciplinary hearing in which former solicitor general Daniel Fung Wah-kin (pictured) was fined HK$300,000 for professional misconduct took three years to get off the ground because a senior counsel could not be found to sit on it - and only started after rare intervention by the chief justice.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, convenor of the Barristers Disciplinary Tribunal Panel, which conducts disciplinary proceedings, said he had spent three years trying to secure three members for the tribunal, which comprises a senior counsel, a barrister and a lay person.

'The biggest problem was to locate a senior counsel to join the tribunal. I have approached all the dozen senior barristers on the panel list but all refused for various reasons,' Tong said.

'Some said there could be conflict for their involvement in the hearing because they know Daniel personally,' he said, adding it was the first time he had had such a problem since he took the post in 2000.

Fung, a senior counsel, was found guilty of professional misconduct on February 1 by the tribunal, chaired by Peter Ng Kar-fai SC. On June 2, he was censured and ordered to pay a penalty of HK$300,000.

He was found guilty of failing to inform the Court of Appeal in 2005 about clauses of a legislative provision that were unfavourable to his client, Hong Kong Island Development, in a tenancy lawsuit. The firm is a unit of New World Development Group. According to a note on the tribunal's judgment, Fung's failure to draw the court's attention to the point was contrary to the Bar's Code of Conduct. The full judgment has not been made public and the Bar Association says it is not its practice to do so.

Fung, whose seniority ranks 16th in the bar list, was once tipped as a hot favourite to succeed former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie. The 57-year-old is also a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

After trying for three years to assemble a tribunal, Tong said he raised the issue with Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang at the end of 2008. 'The chief justice promised to take it up and Peter Ng approached me the following day, offering to join the tribunal,' Tong said.

The hearing eventually started in the middle of last year, four years after the complaint was filed. It was filed by Mr Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, Chief Judge of the High Court, who presided over the case. Ma will succeed Li as chief justice in September.

Tong, also a senior counsel and lawmaker, said the Bar Council referred the complaint in 2006 to the tribunal convenor, who is responsible for appointing members from a panel of barristers and lay persons. Fung, who is out of town, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

If a barrister is found liable for any disciplinary offence, the High Court Registrar is required to enter a note of the tribunal's orders against the barrister's name on the roll of barristers.

A Bar Association spokesman said it was not Bar Council practice to make the judgments public. The tribunal is a statutory body independent of the Bar Council.