HONG KONG - Barristers in the city hope the newly elected chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association will encourage communication with legal professionals on the mainland to cultivate a better understanding of the civil-law system.
Their remarks came after the city’s sole professional organization for barristers elected a leading human rights lawyer – Senior Counsel Philip Dykes - as their new chairman in a close race on Thursday.
Barrister and lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun hopes the Bar Association, under a new leader, can enhance communication with the mainland legal community. She noted that there are fundamental differences between the common-law system in Hong Kong and the mainland’s civil law.
Leung said pending legal issues such as local legislation on the National Anthem Law and joint-checkpoint arrangement at Hong Kong’s Express Rail Link terminus all have a mainland angle.
She believes more frequent professional discussions can avoid possible misunderstandings resulting from mutual incomprehension of each other’s legal systems.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region unquestionably enjoys a high degree of autonomy as laid down in the Basic Law, added Leung.
“But when it comes to matters related to the mainland and the central government… Hong Kong’s legal professionals should take the initiative to acquire knowledge about the constitutional system and listen to the professional opinions on the mainland.”
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an Executive Council member, echoed Leung’s sentiments. He said, from what he understands, mainland legal experts generally have some basic knowledge of Hong Kong’s common-law system.
“However, on the contrary, Hong Kong barristers don’t have sufficient cognition of the legal principles on the mainland, especially the principle of the civil-law system,” he said.
Tong expects legal experts on both sides to conduct rational debates on the respective legal principles they are familiar with.
He believed further communication could lead to greater consensus, fewer unnecessary disputes. This would help the city better integrate with the motherland.
The new chairman, Philip Dykes, is a prominent figure in human rights issues. He actively comments on political issues, raising concerns over his potential influence on the association’s professionalism and neutrality.
Leung, who was present at the election, said a major topic in the election debate was whether the Bar Association should take a more proactive role in commenting on inevitable political issues.
With Dykes as chairman, Leung predicted the association will express more views on political issues in a “high-profile way”. She hopes he will voice his opinions from a “purely legal angle”.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung expressed confidence in the new head. He said Dykes is expected to be an active chairman who will speak out on political issues but he equally believes the chairman will consult all barristers before making any statements on behalf of the association.
“I trust he will be a fair and impartial Bar chairman when it comes to controversial issues,” he added.
According to local media, after a heated election on Thursday night, Dykes was elected the Bar Association’s new chairman, over the incumbent Paul Lam Ting-kwok, at the organization’s annual general meeting attended by more than 400 members.
Dykes had previously chaired the Bar Association in 2005 and 2006.
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