HK lawyers backing a more vocal Law Society voted onto its council amid anti-government protests, national security law

30-May-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:17 AM Print This Post

Four lawyers advocating a more vocal approach to legal issues in Hong Kong have been voted onto the council of an influential body known for its conservative leanings, in its fiercest-fought election for years that could shift its stance on the key challenges facing the city.

Thousands voted in the Law Society election on Thursday in a poll that effectively determined how they wanted the organisation to position itself following months of anti-government protests and Beijing’s reaction to them.

While some want the body to be more outspoken on legal issues affecting the public, others argue it should remain strictly professional and politically neutral.

The Law Society held an election to its council, which formulates its stance on key legal issues, against a backdrop of fresh protests in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

The Law Society held an election to its council, which formulates its stance on key legal issues, against a backdrop of fresh protests in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

Rival camps seeking Law Society council seats lay out competing visions

Hundreds of lawyers queued up to cast their vote on Thursday at the Law Society in Central, while thousands more posted their preferences.

The result was not announced until the early hours of Friday, with the body having to count proxy, postal and in-person votes cast by an estimated 6,000 of its 12,000 members, double what was recorded last year.

In an extremely tight race, the liberal group of five together bagged 15,448 votes to win four seats, while the bloc in support of political neutrality secured 15,077 votes and took one seat. Each eligible member can cast up to five votes.

“The result told us that our solicitors have an unambiguous voice for the Law Society in relation to defending the rule of law,” said human rights lawyer Kenneth Lam, one of the liberal lawyers who won a seat.

He pledged on the group’s behalf to bring its voice into the 20-member council.

The Law Society is traditionally seen as more conservative than its counterpart Bar Association for barristers. It is increasingly common for solicitors to have to deal with mainland Chinese clients as their businesses take root in Hong Kong.

In the election, five seats were up for grabs and contested by two groups one consisting of Lam and four other solicitors who wanted the organisation to be more vocal, and the other arguing for its political neutrality and professionalism.

Lam and three of his allies Davyd Wong, Michelle Tsoi Wing-tak, and Civic Party member Janet Pang Ho-yan won seats. Their fifth member, George Chan Ka-ho, came seventh out of the 10 candidates running.

While Lam’s group agreed with the Law Society’s move to flag concerns over criminal acts carried out by radical protesters, they argued the body was not as critical and prompt when it came to controversial episodes involving police.

Tsoi said the professional body had failed to weigh in on a recent constitutional debate over the limits to the powers of Beijing’s two offices overseeing Hong Kong’s affairs, in contrast to its counterparts at the Bar Association.

Beijing lacks legal authority to enact national security law, Hong Kong lawyers say

Warren Ganesh, from the group known by supporters as the “professional five”, came third to secure a seat. His running mates, Simon McConnell, Robert Rhoda, Olivia Kung, and Cynthia Yen, all lost.

According to past records, candidates perceived to be more conservative often benefited from proxy votes, with suggestions that junior lawyers often handed over their votes to bosses, although a council member refuted the claim.

In this election, there was a noticeable surge of postal votes, which could mean the significance of proxy voting had dwindled.

Earlier this month, it was revealed the society’s president Melissa Kaye Pang had privately rallied support for Kung’s camp, acting in a personal capacity, which she said she was entitled to do as an exercise of freedom of expression.

The issue resurfaced during the annual meeting on Thursday, with human rights lawyer Michael Vidler challenging her position as chair, warning her behaviour would give a troubling perception. Pang did not recuse herself, saying she had sought legal advice on the matter.

Before the election, both groups issued a statement earlier condemning all forms of violence after hard-core protesters attacked Law Society member Chan Tsz-chin during a demonstration against Beijing’s proposed national security law on Sunday.

While Ganesh’s group urged people to refrain from violence, “however strong differences in opinion may be”, Lam’s group expressed grave concern for “violence against individuals, mass arrests and use of force against peaceful protesters”.




Category: Hong Kong

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