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Liberal HKU academic throws hat in ring for Hong Kong Law Society council seat

Eric Cheung Tat-ming’s bid comes after leading human rights lawyer Philip Dykes was elected Bar Association chairman

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 12:38pm

An outspoken law academic announced his decision on Thursday to run for a council seat on Hong Kong’s solicitors body, raising the prospect of another liberal shift in the city’s legal community following the Bar Association’s leadership change earlier this year.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s law school, said he had hoped to promote a pro-bono ethos among members and to speak out in a “firm, dignified and yet non-confrontational manner” when the city’s rule of law was threatened.

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Five seats in the Law Society’s 20-member council are up for grabs at the end of this month when the group’s more than 10,000 members pick their choice out of nine candidates.

“A lot of Hongkongers currently are feeling a sense of helplessness,” Cheung said. “By running in the election, I hope I would encourage more people not to give up and to stand fast in their roles, especially the younger generation.”

Cheung’s bid for the council, which is seen as less outspoken than the barrister body, comes after leading human rights lawyer Philip Dykes was elected as chairman of the Bar Association in January, replacing an incumbent who was perceived as less liberal.

Four out of five other members on his list were also elected as council members.

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Cheung, who was a litigation solicitor before becoming a full-time academic in 1996, has spoken out on several of the city’s hot-button legal issues. He was critical of Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law in 2016, which pre-empted a local court over the government’s legal bid to unseat two pro-independence lawmakers over improper oath-taking.

He also challenged the legality of the joint checkpoint proposal for the city’s cross-border rail link, which would allow national laws to be enforced in part of the West Kowloon terminus leased to the mainland.

“I hope the law society will be more proactive in speaking out on issues concerning the city’s rule of law in future,” he said.

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Cheung is running with human rights lawyer Kenneth Lam, a former student leader who once visited Beijing to support the student movement of 1989.

But Cheung said it would be impossible for him to take up a leadership role because he and Lam would only be two votes on the council if elected.

Three current members – Mark Daly, Brian Gilchrist and Michael Lintern-Smith – are seeking re-election. The other four candidates are Pierre Chan Tat-hin, Karen Lam, Nicholas Millar and Wong Hau-yan.

Melissa Pang, the Law Society’s vice-president, is expected to succeed Thomas So Siu-tsung as the new president.

Gilchrist and Chan Chak-ming, an adviser to Hong Kong Vision, a think tank founded by former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, are tipped to be the front runners to succeed Pang as the society’s new vice-president.

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Cheung said he would not contest the post this year, as he needed more time to build trust with the council.

Amirali Nasir, another vice-president of the body, welcomed Cheung’s decision to run in the poll.

Solicitor Kevin Yam Kin-fung hoped the new leadership would speak up on important legal issues while not tarnishing the society’s reputation for being politically neutral.