Hong Kong: Solicitors march on higher courts
A report in the South China Morning Post says the barrister monopoly in Hong Kong’s is to be broken potentially as soon as this spring, following years of lobbying by solicitors. A training team from the UK is reported to be destined for Hong Kong to boost the advocacy skills of local solicitors and to train them to pass the local advocacy exams.
Solicitor-advocates won higher advocacy rights in the English courts under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. Since then, thousands of solicitors have won accreditation, arguably causing difficulties at various sections of the traditional bar, not least for those doing criminal and family work.
The Morning Post reports that the Hong Kong Law Society, which represents solicitors, forecasts the dismantling of the bar’s monopoly will save clients considerable amounts in fees.
The newspaper quotes Allan Leung, the senior partner at local office of Anglo-US law firm Hogan Lovells, as saying: ‘The amount could be tens of thousands of dollars, and the saving is mainly on the time a barrister will have to spend reading the files to understand the case with which the solicitor-advocate, who may have been handling the case for a long time, is familiar.’
Meanwhile, across the South China Sea, there is concern that the Singapore government is about to launch another crackdown on political dissent by invoking defamation laws against its critics.
A Reuters news agency report says the People’s Action Party – which has been in power since 1959 – has become increasingly sensitive over rising levels of dissent since suffering its worst election results ever in the 2011 poll. That vote saw a swing away from the ruling party of nearly 6.5 per cent, with the PAP commanding its lowest ever share of the vote at fractionally more than 60 per cent.
Slapping critics with defamation suits – or the threat of financially-crippling legal action – has been a long-standing tactic of the PAP in curbing political critics. However, more recently, according to Reuters, the government has had to be less dogmatic, accepting apologies and retractions when in the past it would have pursued opponents through the courts regardless.
The agency quotes Phil Robertson, the deputy director for Asia of New York-based group Human Rights Watch, as saying: The jury is still out on whether we’re seeing a sustainable change in government attitudes towards their critics. But it’s clear that Singapore’s youth, and the Internet-fuelled information culture they revel in, are less accepting of government heavy-handedness when it comes to censorship.’