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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Who’s who in the new Bar Association leadership, and what’s next on their list of challenges?

Local barristers voted in a slate of mostly liberal-minded leaders, but the new chairman and council members face an uphill task

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 11:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 11:50am

Following one of the most heated races in years, Hong Kong barristers opted for reform on Thursday night by voting for a new slate of mostly liberal-minded leaders to take the helm of the city’s 1,400-member barrister organisation.

Philip Dykes SC, a human rights lawyer who advocated for a more vocal bar on the issue of rule of law and judicial independence, successfully challenged the incumbent, Paul Lam Ting-kwok SC, in the Bar Association leadership election to become the new chairman.

The oft-uncontested election heated up this year as Dykes, a former chairman in 2005, took many by surprise by throwing his name in the ring for the second time, as he led a star-studded team to also vie for the five council member seats up for grabs. They secured four out of five.

Dykes’ teammates included prominent criminal specialist Lawrence Lok Ying-kam and respected legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun, who were both elected as council members with overwhelming support.

The race had a political undertone: a controversial plan approved by Beijing for a joint immigration checkpoint serving the new cross-border rail link will see national laws being enforced by mainland officers in part of a train terminus in Hong Kong. A fierce debate continues to rage over whether the proposal violates the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution.

Stretching the Basic Law to fit Hong Kong’s high-speed rail plan puts ‘one country, two systems’ at risk

The political saga, which surfaced just weeks before Thursday’s election, not only put the city’s rule of law to the test, but also split views on the bar’s role. While some felt it had not done enough to raise concerns on certain issues, others stressed it was important for the bar to remain apolitical – a position taken by Lam’s team.

With the city about to enact local legislation on the joint checkpoint arrangement – also known as co-location – as well as a controversial law against disrespect of the national anthem, the incoming Bar Association head has signed himself up for a bumpy ride. What’s next for the chairman and the five newly elected members? And more importantly, who are they?

Chairman

Philip Dykes SC

England and Wales Bar (1977); Hong Kong Bar (1985); Queen’s Counsel, later senior counsel, Hong Kong (1997)

Track record: Dykes, who specialises in public law, recently represented student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung at the city's top court to appeal against a jail sentence imposed on him by the Court of Appeal at the request of prosecutors. Wong had earlier been given a non-custodial sentence for the same conviction over his role in a pre-Occupy protest.

Dykes also defended Yau Wai-ching and Nathan Law Kwun-chung when the government took them to court in 2016 and last year to strip them of their Legislative Council seats.

He represented the applicant Ng Ka-ling in a significant judicial review in 1999, which centred on mainlanders’ right of abode in the city.

Dykes was also involved in drafting the city’s Bill of Rights when he worked for the Department of Justice before going private in 1991. He served as chairman of the Bar Association between 2005 and 2006.

Council members

Lawrence Lok Ying-kam SC

England and Wales Bar (1978); Hong Kong Bar (1979); Queen’s Counsel, later senior counsel, Hong Kong (1994)

Team: Dykes

Track record: Lok is best known for his criminal practice and has been dubbed one of the four best criminal barristers in town. He mitigated on Joshua Wong’s behalf after the activist pleaded guilty to contempt of court for his involvement in the Occupy protests.

He also defended Chief Inspector Wong Cho-shing, who assaulted activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu during the same protests.

Lok represented the China Charitable Foundation in the probate lawsuit over late tycoon Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum’s estate against her lover Peter Chan Chun-chuen.

Johannes Chan Man-mun SC

Hong Kong Bar (1982); Senior Counsel (Hong Kong, 2003)

Team: Dykes

Track record: The University of Hong Kong law scholar is a specialist in human rights, constitutional and administrative law. He was the dean of the university’s law faculty between 2002 and 2014.

Although Chan spends most of his time in the academic world, he can be seen around court taking up pivotal cases from time to time.

Chan represented disqualified lawmaker Lau Siu-lai against the government’s legal bid to have her unseated last year over improper oath-taking.

Erik Shum Sze-man

Hong Kong Bar (1985)

Team: Dykes

Track record: Better known for his criminal practice, Shum defended one of the defendants accused of taking part in the 2016 Mong Kok riot at the District Court last year.

In 2013, he represented in their appeal four activists convicted of unlawful assembly after taking part in the annual June 4 vigil. He argued that it would be against the Bill of Rights to require demonstrators to lodge a written notice with police seven days before a protest.

In 2015, Shum represented the Hong Kong Journalist Association in opposing an injunction sought by HKU’s governing council to ban reporting on a leaked audio recording of its meeting.

Randy Shek

England and Wales Bar (1998); Hong Kong Bar (2008)

Team: Dykes

Track record: Shek, who has a criminal practice, can often be seen around court defending activists who have had a brush with the law.

He has defended activist Joshua Wong more than once, including the time the student leader stormed the government’s forecourt. Shek represented Wong in another case in 2015, when the activist was accused of obstructing a police officer during a protest outside the central government’s liaison office in 2014.

He has also defended other Occupy protesters.

Why this is a Bar Association election like no other

Kim Rooney

Western Australia Bar and Solicitor (1980); England and Wales Solicitor (1991); Hong Kong Solicitor (1992-2009); Hong Kong Bar (2010)

Team: Lam

Track record: Rooney is a dispute resolution veteran, specialising in arbitration in areas from resources sectors such as mining and forestry to hi-tech sectors.

She regularly sits as an arbitrator and has worked on cases involving disputes arising from a software distribution agreement in East Asia, construction of a coal-fired power station in South Asia, and operation of manufacturing facility in China.