Bar judges criteria for High Court

THE Bar Association is polling members on the necessary qualities for a High Court judge, following a dispute over the issue with the Law Society.

The poll is part of an attempt to overhaul the Supreme Court Ordinance governing the appointment of judges.

The dispute began in June, when the lawyers' Legislative Council representative, Simon Ip Sik-on, raised an amendment to the ordinance to make solicitors with more than 10 years' experience eligible to be appointed as recorders - part-time High court judges.

The Law Society argued advocacy experience was not necessarily vital for a judge and solicitors should be eligible to become recorders.

But the Bar said the amendment would upset the structure of the two branches.

Bar chairman Ronny Wong Fook-hum QC said the focus should not be on recorders since they were only temporary appointments.

Instead he suggested a comprehensive review of the ordinance.

'The whole section has to be looked at in the real public interest,' Mr Wong said.

The Bar hoped to compile a list of qualities High Court judges should possess from information collected in the survey.

'We want to spell out the criteria for appointing judges since they are very important to society as a whole,' Mr Wong said.

Mr Wong said the central question was who had the necessary qualities to become a High Court judge and not whether the candidate was a solicitor or a barrister.

The Bar circular about the survey also said the questionnaire was intended to assist the Bar Council in formulating proposals on eligibility which would not distinguish between barristers and solicitors.

'It is not intended to cover the matter of suitability which is a matter for the Judicial Service Commission,' the circular said.

Today is the deadline for returning the questionnaire.

Bar members are asked to decide which of the eight elements listed are essential for a person to qualify for High Court appointment.

The eight elements are: A degree in law from a common law jurisdiction: A professional qualification such as barrister or solicitor from a common law jurisdiction; Ten or more years' practice as a legal professional, that is as a barrister or solicitor in a common law jurisdiction; Ten or more years' practice in Hong Kong as a legal professional; Ten or more years' practice as an advocate in common law jurisdiction; Ten or more years' practice as an advocate in Hong Kong; Ten or more years' practice as an advocate in the High Court in Hong Kong; Ten or more years' practice of litigation (without advocacy) in the High Court in Hong Kong.

Bar members are also encouraged to propose other qualifications, such as experience of sitting as arbitrator, as essential elements a judge should possess.