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The Law Society held its annual general meeting at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Tuesday evening. Photo: Yik Yeung Man

Prominent human rights lawyer loses seat on Hong Kong Law Society’s governing council as ex-president wins re-election

  • Defeat of Mark Daly means there will be one fewer outspoken liberal on 20-strong governing council
  • Former president Melissa Kaye Pang, who led the 115-year-old legal body between 2018 and 2021, re-elected to council for another term

A prominent human rights lawyer in Hong Kong has lost his seat on the Law Society’s governing council, while a former president has won re-election in the latest reshuffle at the city’s biggest solicitor body.

The defeat of Mark Daly on Tuesday means there will be one fewer outspoken liberal on a council that has in recent years been divided largely by solicitors who focus on the sector’s development and those who share the human rights lawyer’s views.

Lawyer Mark Daly. Photo: SCMP

Former president Melissa Kaye Pang, who led the 115-year-old legal body between 2018 and 2021, was re-elected for another term with incumbent members Calvin Cheng, a partner at Yung, Yu, Yuen & Co, and Simon McConnell, managing partner at Clyde & Co Hong Kong.

Three others newly elected were commercial law specialist Shum Hin-han of Squire Patton Boggs, Hau Pak-sun, a partner at Charles Chu & Kenneth Sit, and Vincent Tso Shiu-kei, chairman of the Legal Profession Advancement Association.

The association is one of 30 designated legal bodies which elect 15 representatives to vote in the city’s chief executive election every five years.

The Law Society election took place at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai on Tuesday evening during the body’s annual general meeting, with seven contenders vying for six seats on the 20-strong council.

With Daly voted out, the society is left with four lawyers known for their outspokenness on the council.

Melissa Kaye Pang has been re-elected to the governing council. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

“There has been a lot of political development since the last time when I got the most votes,” said Daly, referring to his election in 2019.

The election this time was noticeably quieter than in recent years, when feelings ran high following the 2019 anti-government protests, triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, with many lawyers critical of the government’s handling of the situation.

But in a rare move last year, then chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned that her administration could sever ties with the legal body if it failed to stay out of politics.

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Winners this year were elected with around 2,600 votes each, compared with more than 3,000 last year.

Daly, who got 336 votes, expressed concern about the low turnout. “It shows the apathy of the voters, which is disappointing,” he said, adding that it was also time to reform the poll’s proxy system, often accused by contenders from the liberal bloc of favouring their rivals.

Although Daly lost in terms of in-person and postal votes, the disparity in proxy votes for candidates was much greater. Those who won pocketed more than 1,700 each, whereas Daly bagged just 15.

(From left) Calvin Cheng, Vincent Tso, Melissa Pang Kaye, Shum Hin-han, Simon McConnell and Hau Pak-sun meet the media after Tuesday’s AGM. Photo: Edmond So

Following her win, Pang vowed to “serve our members and the community by safeguarding the rule of law and maintaining the highest professional standard”.

“With faith in the rule of law, we march on,” she told the Post.

Making the same pledges as Pang, president Chan Chak-ming reiterated that the Law Society was a professional body.

“I will also promote the spirit of the rule of law, especially on education for young people, and serve the public through various plans and events,” he added.

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The society is the regulatory body for the city’s more than 12,000 solicitors. But in recent years, the election has been seen as a battleground as the governing council’s composition can determine the society’s approach when commenting on government policies and even decisions made by Beijing.

In 2020, four candidates advocating a more outspoken approach to local legal developments secured four out of the five available seats.

One of four outspoken candidates in 2021 subsequently pulled out after reporting intimidation, with all five seats available picked up by candidates who prioritised the development of the legal industry over politics.