Pro-government figures say legal sector’s self-regulatory rights should be revoked if professional groups turn political

Published (HKT): 2021.04.08 06:15

The government could take back the legal sector’s self-regulatory rights if professional groups turned political, a former legal association head and a pro-Beijing lawmaker have said.

Legal professional bodies should be politically neutral and should not be controlled by political groups. Otherwise their self-regulatory rights should be stripped so they become regulated by government agencies, justice departments or independent institutions as is the case in some foreign countries, former Hong Kong Law Society President Thomas So told Sing Tao Daily in an interview.

The Hong Kong Law Society regulates the city’s solicitors.

The public could reflect to the government or the legislature if they believed professional groups were politicized, So said. The legal sector should be regulated since they serve the public, and the Department of Justice and the Legislative Council’s Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services could look into whether changes in self-regulatory rights were necessary, he added.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Horace Cheung, who is a solicitor and the panel’s chair, agreed with So. He criticized the Hong Kong Bar Association, which oversees the city’s barristers, for often commenting on political issues and claiming the comments were made from legal standpoints.

The government could amend the Legal Practitioners Ordinance to take back legal professional bodies’ self-regulatory rights and give them to government departments or a new body set up by the government, Cheung told Sing Tao.

Increasingly few industries overseas are self-regulated, lawmaker and solicitor Paul Tse told Sing Tao. When Paul Harris was appointed chair of the HKBA, his suggestion to amend the national security law was a public challenge to the legislation and jeopardized the body’s professional status, he added.

Harris was attacked by state media and official Beijing agencies for his remarks. The HKBA later said the suggestion was only Harris’ personal opinion. The association also said it was not a political organization but a professional body that supports the maintenance of the rule of law, the Basic Law, judicial independence and the due administration of justice. Members of the HKBA were inviolable supporters of the fundamental policy of the “one country, two systems” principle, it added.

Apple Daily reached out to Harris but has yet to receive a response.

Since the government viewed the establishment of the Insurance Authority, which monitors the insurance sector, as being successful, its bureaus have been discussing with relevant professional sectors about taking back their self-regulatory rights, pro-Beijing sources told Apple Daily.

Former HKBA Chair Alan Leong told Apple Daily that he was surprised by So’s comments since, as a former head of the Law Society, he was suggesting to strip away his own sector’s rights. The legal sector’s independence was crucial to Hong Kong’s status as an international finance center, Leong said.

Democratic countries and regions under the common law regime all allow lawyers to self-regulate in order to protect clients’ best interests, since lawyers would not have to please the government in order to have their licenses extended, as is required in China, Leong said. Many lawyers in the United Kingdom are also members of political parties, Leong added.

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