Former Hong Kong Bar Association chairman tipped to become justice minister in John Lee’s governing team, with incumbent Teresa Cheng on the way out
- Source says former association head Paul Lam approached by incoming leader John Lee to serve as secretary for justice in next administration
- City leader’s office director Eric Chan likely to serve as chief secretary, while Paul Chan could continue as finance minister, another insider says
A former head of the Hong Kong Bar Association has emerged as the latest front runner likely to become the city’s next justice minister after Chief Executive-elect John Lee Ka-chiu discussed the formation of his governing team with state leaders last week, the Post has learned.
It had been previously speculated that incumbent Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah would retain the post under Lee’s incoming administration.
But a source on Monday said Lee had recently approached former legal association head Paul Lam Ting-kwok, adding that he appeared to be a more suitable candidate for the role, as the next administration would emphasise teamwork.
Another source, who is familiar with the formation of Lee’s team, said the incoming leader was expected to unveil his line-up in the second half of the month, with Eric Chan Kwok-ki, director of the Chief Executive’s Office, likely to be nominated as chief secretary, while Paul Chan Mo-po could continue to serve as finance minister.
In a reply to the Post on Monday, Lam said he had “no comments” on whether he would succeed Cheng as secretary for justice.
He also noted that his role as chairman of the Administrative Appeals Board would expire this week, clarifying previous reports from several media outlets that he would resign from the position in preparation for joining the next government.
Lam, a senior counsel by profession, studied at Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, before graduating from the University of Nottingham with a master’s degree in law.
The senior counsel has held a number of public offices in Hong Kong, including his current role as chairman of the Consumer Council and membership of the Operations Review Committee for the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Lam has also served for short periods as a deputy judge at the High Court on an annual basis since 2015.
Elected as chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association in 2017, Lam and his predecessor Winnie Tam Wan-chi were both considered to be political moderates in the legal sector. However, Lam was unseated a year later by Senior Counsel Philip Dykes while running for a second term in a highly charged election.
But any principal officials nominated by Lee will need to be appointed by the central government, according to the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
As part of Lee’s trip to Beijing last week to meet top mainland officials, the chief executive-elect discussed candidates for his ministerial team with Xia Baolong, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
During the meeting on May 31, Xia advised Lee to form a team of like-minded officials to help implement his policies over the next five years.
Lee is expected to announce his ministerial choices shortly after the Legislative Council votes on June 15 on a resolution to his blueprint for overhauling the government. Both will proceed ahead of Lee assuming office on July 1.
The restructuring plan aims to increase the number of government bureaus from 13 to 15. It also proposes the creation of deputy positions to serve under the secretaries for administration, finance and justice to better coordinate large infrastructure projects and improve communication within the civil service.
The source familiar with the formation of Lee’s team said Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen and Cheuk Wing-hing, retired permanent secretary for innovation and technology, were among the candidates shortlisted for the role of deputy to the chief secretary.
Cheuk previously served as a police inspector for three years before becoming an administrative officer in 1984.
The insider also said Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung was likely to continue in his current role, while vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and lawmaker Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan could head the revamped Home and Youth Affairs Bureau.
Multiple sources had earlier told the Post that Eric Chan intended to retire but had changed his mind after he was persuaded by some “influential people”.
The sources also said Chan was the preferred choice to become chief secretary because of his experience in coordinating various policy bureaus and departments during his tenure as director of the Chief Executive’s Office.
On Monday, Bernard Chan, the convenor of the Executive Council, the chief executive’s de facto cabinet, praised the director for his coordination skills.
He added that a chief secretary needed to coordinate different departments and policy bureaus, saying he believed Eric Chan was capable of such things because of his role in the Chief Executive’s Office.
Additional reporting by Chris Lau and Gary Cheung