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HKU scholar barred from Law Society discussion on controversial new legal exam proposals

Eric Cheung says he has been notified that he will be excused from the discussions on Tuesday

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 8:27pm

Hong Kong’s solicitors’ group has barred a moderate legal scholar from sitting in on its board’s discussion about a controversial qualifying examination for prospective lawyers, the Post has learned.

The Hong Kong Law Society has said Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) law faculty, was in “conflict” with one of the items on the implementation of a controversial new solicitor’s qualifying exam, the Law Society’s Examination (LSE).

Cheung confirmed he was earlier notified by the Law Society’s secretariat that he was excused from part of the Law Society Council’s meeting on Tuesday, relating to the LSE, and would not receive papers on the item.

While he declined to comment on whether the move was justified, Cheung said he was not involved in HKU’s own qualifying course, the postgraduate ­certificate in laws (PCLL), or its teaching.

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“I haven’t taught PCLL courses for more than five years,” Cheung said. “However, I don’t see this as a convenient time to comment on the arrangement.”

Law Society president Melissa Pang Kaye said she would not comment on individual cases but said the society “had standing orders that govern council proceedings including matters like confidentiality, collective responsibility and conflict of interest”.

“We will consider all relevant factors when deciding whether to invite a member to excuse himself from the discussion on a subject,” Pang said.

The controversy comes during mounting tensions between the Law Society and three local law schools after it pushed for the LSE to be implemented as soon as late 2019. It may come into direct competition with the oversubscribed one-year PCLL courses provided by the three law schools.

The Law Society has not announced all details of the LSE, but it has indicated the exam may allow multiple sittings for local and foreign law graduates to qualify as solicitors.

Currently, three law schools from HKU, Chinese University and City University receive 1,200 PCLL applicants, and admit about 750 law graduates, each year.

During a recent Legislative Council legal panel meeting, differences between the Law Society and three law schools were evident.

Chairman of the society’s legal education committee, Stephen Hung Wan-shun, said the LSE was the result of the three law schools’ “uncooperative” attitude on the previous unified qualifying exam, that forced them to consider the LSE as an alternative to the PCLL.

This was rebuffed by Wilson Chow Wai-shun, head of HKU’s department of professional legal education.

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“Last November, the Law Society sent us templates of exam questions and invited our views, which we did accordingly,” Chow said. “Three deans of law schools have also jointly asked the Law Society to follow up on the matter, but we have not heard back.”

Pressed by legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok on how many PCLL places were needed for the law graduates, Hung refused to go into detail.

“The universities have been telling us they can increase [the number of PCLL places] for … years,” Hung said. “All I’m asking is another chance [for a second sitting].”

In response, the three law schools all suggested they had already increased their number of PCLL places. City University’s law school dean Geraint Howells said creating a separate exam would create more inconsistency among graduates.