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Outspoken Hong Kong legal academic Eric Cheung wins seat as city’s solicitors vote for governing council

HKU lecturer among five elected to Law Society council, but pro-democracy former student leader Kenneth Lam misses the cut

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 12:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 10:41am

An outspoken legal scholar won the last seat up for grabs on the governing council of the group representing Hong Kong solicitors on Thursday, scraping in with fewer votes than expected.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer on the University of Hong Kong’s law faculty, will join the Law Society’s top council, along with the relatively conservative candidates Pierre Chan Tat-hin, Brian Gilchrist, Karen Lam and Wong Hau-yan.

Kenneth Lam, a human rights lawyer and former student leader who visited Beijing to support the pro-democracy movement in the Chinese capital in 1989, missed out.

The society did not release the number of votes cast. But it is understood that Cheung got just enough votes to take the fifth seat, while Chan garnered the most votes, with 1,997.

The new line-up of the 20-member council is expected to meet next week to choose the new president and two vice-presidents.

Incumbent president Thomas So Shiu-tsung, who was earlier this year appointed by Beijing as a delegate to China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, is not expected to seek re-election. There have been reports that Melissa Pang, a current vice-president, will succeed him.

Leave public out of Law Society’s internal fight

The poll results cast doubt on the prospects for political change at the society. Some had predicted that liberal voices were about to get louder in the traditionally moderate and conservative profession, as happened earlier this year over at the barristers’ professional body.

In January, human rights lawyer Philip Dykes was elected chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, unseating Paul Lam Ting-kwok, who was considered too conservative by some barristers.

But with Kenneth Lam’s defeat, only one of the five new council members at the Law Society council – Cheung – is likely to bring a change of tone.

The experienced litigation solicitor, who became 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 on the government’s legal bid to unseat two pro-independence lawmakers-elect over improper oath-taking.

Cheung also questioned the legality of the joint checkpoint plan for the city’s cross-border high-speed rail link, which would allow mainland Chinese laws to be enforced in part of the West Kowloon terminal.

He said after the results came in: “I look forward to working with other council members to promote the society's service and address the needs of our fellow members.

Will the new Bar Association leaders make inroads with Beijing?

“I don't think my participation had politicised the election. We are a professional body, and its affairs should not be politicised. But being politically neutral does not mean that we should avoid voicing our views when there are issues of great significance to the rule of law.”

Cheung did not comment on the low support he got from members but said he was disappointed Kenneth Lam was not elected.

Kenneth Lam said he believed his lack of resources in canvassing support was one of the reasons for his defeat. But he said he was encouraged to see that so many members turned out in person at the annual general meeting to vote.

On Cheung's victory, outgoing council member Huen Wong said he was pleased that the council would have a representative from the education sector.

So said the results showed the choices of the members, and he respected the results. He also said he did not think the election was politicised by Cheung's participation.

Hong Kong Law Society issues warning over joint rail checkpoint

The Law Society is a professional association for solicitors in Hong Kong. Under the Legal Practitioners Ordinance, it has a certificating role in the admission procedure, and it is empowered to issue practising certificates and certificates of registration to Hong Kong solicitors, foreign lawyers and foreign law firms.

It can also investigate allegations of professional misconduct and intervene in a solicitor’s practice in cases of dishonesty, undue delay or bankruptcy.

In the last council election in 2017, five lawyers supported by the Law Society Monitor, a bloc formed by a group of pro-democracy lawyers, were elected to the council. Pro-establishment legislator Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, one of the candidates in last year’s election, lost.

As of the end of 2016, there were 9,076 solicitors with a current practising certificate, according to the society’s official website.