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Human rights lawyer ‘shocked’ by Hong Kong leader’s dismissal of legal community’s concerns on joint checkpoint plan

Candidate for Bar Council’s chairmanship urges a focus on issues, not opponents’ character

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2018, 1:23pm

Prominent human rights lawyer Philip Dykes says he is “shocked and disappointed” by the Hong Kong leader’s dismissal of concerns raised by the local legal community over a contentious joint checkpoint plan for the city’s cross-border rail link, saying she should address the issue instead of attacking her opponents’ character.

Speaking to the Post on Monday, Dykes also said it was regrettable the Bar Association’s long-awaited statement on the proposal – which would see mainland laws being enforced in part of the rail terminal at West Kowloon – had come late. The matter partly inspired him to run this month for the chairmanship of the Bar Council, the group’s governing body. Dykes held the post more than a decade ago.

The hit-back came after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Sunday accused lawyers questioning the arrangement’s legality of harbouring an “elitist mentality or double standards” by regarding the city’s legal system as superior to that of the mainland’s.

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Dykes called Lam’s response to the matter “disappointing” and said it was meant to divert attention away from the issues and instead focus on “the nature of the person who maintains an opposite view”.

He likened the top city official’s argument to the Latin legal term argumentum ad hominem, which means one has concentrated not on the issue but on the personality of the person holding an opposing view.

“Arguments, particularly legal arguments, stand on merits, not on attacking the character of your opponents or the person you perceive to be your opponent.

“It is important to say that the Bar Association, like myself, is not opposing Carrie Lam or [any] individuals. They just want ... a clear explanation on why the co-location arrangement is lawful.”

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The six-person list led by Dykes to run for the Bar Council earlier issued a statement challenging the legality of the joint checkpoint plan, which was officially endorsed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) last week. The six argued the arrangement violated Article 18 of the Basic Law, which stipulates no mainland laws should be enforced in Hong Kong unless they are listed in Annexe III of the mini-constitution.

The stance by Dykes’ team was echoed days later by the association, which said it was “appalled” by the NPCSC decision. The professional body’s latest comment contrasted sharply with its three-paragraph statement released in October.

Asked whether the association’s statement had come too late and whether the legal community had missed the chance to turn the tide, Dykes said it was regrettable that the strong stance “came later rather than sooner” but at least the point had been made now.

The professional body, he added, had been less vocal than at other times, suggesting it may be down to the style of its chairman, who carries significant influence in directing the council.

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While the sensitive issue had led Dykes to contest the Bar Council chairmanship this month, he said he decided to run again because he foresaw similar constitutional debates emerging this year.

Paul Lam Ting-kwok, the incumbent Bar Association chairman and seeking a second term, has been reiterating the body should remain apolitical and refrain from acting as a spokesman for any political faction. Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a Lam supporter, also said the body should not become a “political tool for some”.

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Dykes denied suggestions his team was politically charged. It includes local legal heavyweights Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun and senior counsel Lawrence Lok Ying-kam. Dykes said he was not a member of any political party and that his team’s objective was to advance the rule of law, not a particular ideological agenda.

The human rights expert said he hoped the barristers would vote according to their conscience on January 18, and not for the candidates who would improve their personal interests but rather support those who would better safeguard the interests of the bar and the rule of law in the city.

Dykes also hoped the election process would reflect common ground with Paul Lam’s team as well as the unified backing of the bar.