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01 June 2020

'Liberal' candidates win Hong Kong law society elections with pledge to 'fearlessly' defend rule of law

Grouping, which includes GC of legal recruitment firm, wins four out of five available seats in elections to ruling council

By John Malpas

The anti-National Security Law protest in Hong Kong on 24 May

The anti-National Security Law protest in Hong Kong on 24 May PaulWong/Shutterstock

A ‘liberal’ grouping of lawyers have won four out of five available seats in the Law Society of Hong Kong’s council elections on a ticket to ‘fearlessly’ defend the rule of law and ‘push’ the society to adopt a similar approach.

The slate, which campaigned under the slogan ‘Vote for the Strong and Fearless Voices’, secured their seats at the annual elections last Friday (29 May) after promising to ‘push’ the law society to make ‘timely’ contributions on ‘rule of law issues of constitutional and social importance’ such as China’s proposed security legislation for Hong Kong.

In a statement, the group, which includes Davyd Wong, general counsel of legal recruitment firm Star Anise, said it now had a ‘strong mandate to uphold the rule of law and enhance transparency and accountability of the law society’. 

Their election will put pressure on the society to follow the Hong Kong Bar Association in raising concerns about the proposed security law, which has been condemned by the world’s leading democracies as well as the International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) — in a joint statement the IBA and the IBAHRI said if enacted the law would 'violate the "one country, two systems" principle enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and undermine the autonomy of Hong Kong'. 

While the Hong Kong Bar Association last week issued a statement describing the proposed legislation as ‘worrying’ and ‘problematic’, the law society has not commented officially, having issued a statement on 14 May in which it said it ‘was not set up to advance political beliefs’.

The successful liberal candidates are led by sole practitioner Kenneth Lam, who advises on employment and personal injury law and has been undertaking pro bono work for people arrested as part of the pro-democracy protests.

The grouping has strong representation from lawyers with experience working at international law firms. 

Wong worked at Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills before moving in-house while another successful candidate, Janet Pang, trained at Baker McKenzie in Hong Kong before joining local firm Tang Lee & Co.

George Chan, a fifth slate member, who failed to win a seat, is a senior banking associate at Eversheds Sutherland.

The elections come against the background of mounting international concern over Hong Kong's future.

In April, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute condemned the arrests of 15 pro-democracy figures over their role in the protests, including democratic politician and legislator Martin Lee QC and barrister Dr Margaret Ng.

In the same month, Osborne Clarke cited 'disruption and uncertainty triggered by the lengthy political protests compounded by the coronavirus pandemic' as reasons for its decision to close its two-partner Hong Kong office, while Orrick signalled its decision to close its office a month earlier.

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