25 Aug 2021

Establishment candidates win sweeping victory in Hong Kong law society elections

Grouping of five solicitors who warned against ‘political division’ and pledged to work with Beijing triumph

Hong Kong - 08 April 2021: Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, speaks during a Chief Executive question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Yu Chun Christopher Wong; Shutterstock

A slate of five candidates for election to the Law Society of Hong Kong’s governing council who campaigned on the basis of their ability to work with mainland China have won a resounding victory.

Each of the Now or Never group secured more than 3,000 votes in yesterday’s election, easily defeating a loose slate of three candidates who were endorsed by a liberal grouping of sitting councillors.

A fourth independent candidate, in-house lawyer and ex-Skadden associate Jonathan Ross, withdrew from the race over the weekend citing threats made to him and his family.

The victory of the Now or Never slate marks a stark turnaround from last year when four out of five available seats up for election were won by a slate of candidates who were openly critical of the then-proposed national security law, which was implemented shortly after the poll took place.

The election came hard on the heels of a warning last week by Hong Hong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, that the government would consider ‘severing its ties’ with the law society if it ‘allows politics to hijack their legal profession’.

Her comments came against the background of a decision by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union to disband after official links with it were severed, fuelling speculation the society risked being stripped of its regulatory powers.

In its election literature, the Now or Never group warned that ‘our professional body and society at large has been shaken by political division and propaganda’.

Like the independent candiadates, they pledged to uphold the rule of law and the independence of the profession. However, they also underlined their ability to work with the authorities.

One of the candidates, Deacons litigation partner Justin Yuen, is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's Fangchenggang committee, according to The Standard.

Another, Jingtian & Gongcheng partner Jimmy Chan, formerly headed the enforcement team at Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission.

‘It is of utmost importance that we support our judges and judicial independence in Hong Kong and earnestly reflect this view to the mainland authorities,’ he said in his election statement.

The slate’s resounding victory suggests the majority of the society’s 12,000 members are hoping it can now look forward to a period out of the limelight.

But, in a sign that debate over what the ‘rule of law’ means in Hong Kong is likely to continue, former chief justice Geoffrey Ma told the society’s annual general meeting it was ‘not a political concept’ and was required by the Basic Law and the Judicial Oath.

“It is right and in the public interest to speak out in support of the rule of law in Hong Kong,” he added, having highlighted the independence of the judiciary as one of its key facets.

Kevin Bowers, of Hong Kong boutique Bowers.law, said: "If any self-interest in local or international politics played any part in the casting of member votes in the council elections, or if there was any intimidation of any of the candidates or their families in the election campaign, then the election process and results are compromised in circumstances where more than ever, the role of the Hong Kong Law Society is to regulate and look after the welfare of its members and to uphold the rule of law in Hong Kong as its guiding principle.

"Modernising the profession in the interests of its members (whatever political view any individual member may hold personally) and of the wider public interest in Hong Kong without fear or favour should be the name of the game for the council, and nothing else."

The full text of Chief Justice Ma's speech is reported in Citizen News.

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