Hong Kong solicitors fighting for seats on Law Society council offer competing visions for body’s future

28-May-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:50 AM Print This Post

More than 10,000 lawyers in Hong Kong will on Thursday vote for candidates seeking seats on the Law Society’s council in an election that could determine the stance the professional body takes on legal matters at a time of unprecedented uncertainty over the city’s future.

The five seats are being contested by two groups one consisting of solicitors who want the organisation to be more vocal, and the other arguing for its political neutrality and professionalism.

The Law Society is traditionally perceived as more conservative than its counterpart Bar Association for barristers, which has urged the government to clarify Beijing’s role in local affairs and called for an independent commission of inquiry into protests sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

But in recent months some solicitors have complained their body has failed to react quickly enough on legal matters concerning the public. Others worry taking any further steps could risk politicising what is meant to be a strictly professional body.

“Over the past year, the city’s rule of law has sparked a debate,” said solicitor Vannie Lau Wing-ning. She wants the Law Society to take a firmer stand on whether police used excessive force during the protests, and speak out on the need for a commission of inquiry, which the government rejected as unnecessary.

“When I vote, I will look at whether the candidates endorse these values,” said Lau, who joined the profession in 2016.

A solicitor specialising in finance said lawyers had other issues to tackle, including the growing digitisation of the profession and improving the business environment.

Law Society chief defends decision to back certain candidates in polarised election

“I think a professional body has to maintain its professionalism,” said Josephine Chung, a solicitor with more than 20 years of experience.

The council, which has 20 seats, is responsible for Law Society matters ranging from day-to-day operations to issuing public statements on important legal developments in Hong Kong.

Advocating liberal change are Davyd Wong, Michelle Tsoi Wing-tak, George Chan Ka-ho, Civic Party member Janet Pang Ho-yan and human rights lawyer Kenneth Lam, who have pledged to deliver “independent, firm, strong and fearless” voices.

They acknowledged the Law Society was “a professional body, not a political party” but felt it had a responsibility to lead legal discussions on topics involving the public, Tsoi said.

Wong said addressing legal issues did not amount to getting into politics. “What people do with the solution, that is the political bit … But this does not mean that we, as lawyers, and the Law Society council can’t give an unbiased, independent, expert opinion,” he said.

Pang said she agreed with concerns previously aired by the Law Society when protesters committed crimes and vandalised courts during the unrest. But the body was not equally critical over problematic incidents involving the police as law enforcers, she said.

Pang, Lam and Tsoi have all offered legal aid to protesters.

Their rivals, known to their supporters as the “professional five”, are Warren Ganesh, Simon McConnell, Robert Rhoda, Olivia Kung, and Cynthia Yen. Kung said they had refrained from giving press interviews because they wanted to keep the election an internal matter.

But their election flier reflects their intention of steering clear of politics, reading: “Our professional future is rooted in professionalism and nothing else.”

Both groups issued a statement condemning all forms of violence after protesters attacked Law Society member Chan Tsz-chin during a demonstration against Beijing’s proposed national security law on Sunday.

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

Proxy votes have been a determining factor in past elections, often favouring more conservative candidates. But a council member previously rejected the suggestion that younger lawyers were forced to vote for their bosses’ favoured candidate.

Tsoi, from the group looking for the Law Society to be more vocal, called on lawyers to vote in person on Thursday.

Earlier this month, it was revealed the society’s president Melissa Kaye Pang had privately rallied support for Kung’s camp, which she said was an exercise of freedom of expression.



Category: Hong Kong

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