Hong Kong courts

I’m just doing the right thing: barrister for Hong Kong pro-democracy activists

Senior counsel who is also part of a semi-official delegation, says he does not see a political paradox in his roles as he is guided by code of conduct

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 2:46pm

Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC may come across to some as a political contradiction – he defended pro-democracy activists in court, while being a member of a semi-official trade delegation for Hong Kong.

But the Bar Association vice-chairman says he lives by one simple rule: to do what’s right.

For him, the choice to stand on the front line in court fighting for pro-democracy clients was only about “doing the right thing” and following the barrister’s code of conduct.

In an exclusive interview, Pang told the Post: “The important thing is to do what one considers is right ... It’s right for me to represent people who may be disadvantaged, and need legal representation.

“I think it’s right that I ... present Hong Kong in its best light,” Pang said.

He was speaking in London while attending the Trade Development Council’s symposium to promote Hong Kong’s role in Sino-British trade.

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Pang dismissed the suggestion that the city’s political divide had taken its toll on the public image of legal practitioners. The senior counsel said he remained confident in the quality of the profession as “enthusiastic” young people had been joining the field.

In 1988, Pang became a barrister-at-law, and was admitted to the inner bar in 2012.

Last year, he took up one of the most high-profile cases in his career, representing pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu in court.

Tsang was eventually found guilty of assaulting police and resisting arrest during the 2014 Occupy protests. He was sentenced to five weeks in jail.

Last month, Pang represented localist lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai, who pleaded not guilty to desecrating the Hong Kong and China flags in the Legislative Council last year.

Cheng was found guilty on September 29 and fined HK$5,000.

A coming challenge for Pang will be to represent former lawmaker and student leader Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who lodged a final appeal last month against his eight-month jail sentence for an unlawful protest in the run-up to Occupy.

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On his choices to defend pro-democracy activists, Pang said one of his key guiding principles was the Bar Association’s code of conduct.

“If someone is willing to pay my usual fee and I am competent enough and have the time, then it would be a breach of our professional code for me to refuse,” Pang said, adding that he had also handled various civil and commercial cases.

Last year, Pang was one of 30 members elected to represent the legal sector in the 1,194-strong Election Committee that picked the city’s chief executive.

He nominated retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who was defeated by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

In the interview, Pang said he would rather not comment on the remarks of politicians, such as those by lawmaker and former Law Society president Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.

Last month, Ho sparked controversy with his comments at a rally, saying that pro-independence activists should be “killed mercilessly”.

But Pang would only say: “I can’t give advice on what their political stance should be because it’s not in my place to do that. ‘Doing the right thing’ pretty much covers it.”

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In 2012, at the admission ceremony for new senior counsels, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li described Pang as “a barrister who has always impressed the courts”, and praised him for being “a rarity in that he has a successful practice in both civil and criminal law”.

In recent years, critics have questioned if the quality of Hong Kong’s legal profession had declined, as lawyers and barristers who were active in the political arena fell prey to attacks from political rivals.

But Pang remained upbeat about his sector, especially with young people coming in.

“Young barristers don’t have any salaries but they have to pay chamber expenses, which can be very expensive,” he said.

“But we do see a lot of young people come to the bar, and the reason [is] because they believe in the rule of law. They believe in what barristers do.”