Chief justice accuses lawyers of being cold and big-headed

Head of Court of Final Appeal tells law students to learn by barristers' mistakes as he stresses the importance of maintaining a human touch

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 4:33am

Some lawyers have huge egos while some judges need to develop more of a "human touch".

The verdict was delivered by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, who added that he didn't see himself as a successful figure - despite occupying the highest post in the judiciary.

"I've known judges over the years that are so occupied with the intricacies of the law that they miss out on other important things," Ma told a group of Chinese University law students as part of an interview for the Hong Kong Student Law Gazette.

"Some cases involve vulnerable people, which require a soft touch, a human touch."

He said it wasn't only legal ability that was important for a judge, but "a sense of fairness".

He added: "When you've met a lot of lawyers … one thing that stands out among quite a few of them is that they have huge egos.

"While they have achieved a lot, they think they have actually achieved it solely on their own ... It's not 100 per cent that way."

Ma, who is the second head of the Court of Final Appeal since the handover to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, said: "I have two roles. Judging is actually the better part of it because that is where there are intellectual challenges."

He said there was a "sense of achievement" in writing a judgment after hearing arguments.

Talking of his other role - an administrative one - Ma said: "You have to deal a lot with judges, so you're dealing with humans. On the whole, it is enjoyable."

Ma said the persistent shortage of judges, a subject often raised by lawmakers, certainly did not affect key concepts, "like the independence of the judiciary or the rule of law".

He added: "So far as I'm concerned, it is better to leave a position vacant than to get people who are not qualified or are not the right people."

Ma also said politics was bound to be involved in the law. "The 'right to march' covers Falun Gong, people marching against the government, June 4th - these are all political," the chief justice said.

He also remarked that his colleague, Justice Kemal Bokhary, might have been a bit overdramatic by saying he was worried "a storm of unprecedented ferocity" was gathering over the judicial system.

Recounting his fledgling days in the legal sector, Ma said the barristers who mentor graduates sometimes "teach you the right thing or sometimes the wrong thing". He added: "You learn what you shouldn't be doing from people's bad examples."