Larry Kwok, Chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council, explains how he maintains a balanced perspective and how in his current role at the IPCC he leverages what he learned through tough training during his formative years and from managing international law firms.
Physics? Yep, that’s right! Physics (ie, the study of the laws of nature) was initially the course Mr. Kwok wanted to pursue when he was studying in high school in Australia. However, after a brief encounter with a sage judge (and a timely discovery that he could obtain two degrees in a combined law programme in five years instead of six), he changed course.
“When I met this judge,” Mr. Kwok said, “he encouraged me to take advantage of a combined law degree programme which included the study of law, accounting and economics. He explained that law is about knowing the rules governing human behaviour and conduct in society, accounting is about knowing the rules on running a business, and economics is about knowing the rules of how the market forces work. He said if a person could master all three, he would do well in life.” Mr. Kwok eventually took the judge’s advice, and switched from studying the laws of nature to the laws of society.
Tough Training Builds Character and Professional Foundation
Mr. Kwok attributes a lot of what he has been able to do later in his career to the tough environment in which he was trained in Australia. As gruelling as it was, he believes that it has equipped him with an irreplaceable set of skills that have served him well throughout his career.
During the interview, Mr. Kwok recalled a slew of experiences that taught him how to be self-sufficient and stomach difficult situations. One such experience involved one of the first assignments he completed as a trainee. “When I received the assignment,” he explained, “I had absolutely no idea how to complete it. I did my best, but my first draft was not well-received. At that time, there were no lectures, no tutorials and no hand-holding – I had to learn how to meet the partners’ exacting standards on my own. To a freshly-minted university graduate, this was quite unnerving, but this experience taught me how to take initiative. I looked up exemplars and role models, spoke with mentors and seniors and undertook additional research to get the job done.”
As a Solicitor and Managing Partner
As a solicitor, Mr. Kwok’s practice covers corporate finance, securities, mergers and acquisitions, direct investments, corporate reorganisation and corporate rescue. Mr. Kwok is also active in advising on regulatory investigation matters such as insider dealings, market misconduct, accounting irregularities and violation of the Listing Rules, among other things.
Some of the most memorable deals and work he recalls include the reverse takeover of Tricom by PCCW and injecting the Cyber Port project into the listed vehicle, which touched off the stock market boom in IT stocks in Hong Kong, and advising on the first insider dealing case brought against an investment banker in Hong Kong.
In addition to his work as a solicitor, Mr. Kwok has also held numerous management roles in international law firms. Through these positions, he has played an instrumental role in internationalising Hong Kong firms and also, bringing together firms from the East and West. Mr. Kwok noted that in 2010, he was able to initiate Mallesons Stephen Jaques’ merger talk with the largest PRC law firm King & Wood after several frank and intimate discussions with its Chairman, Mr. Wang Junfeng. Many regarded this merger of East and West as transformational in the global legal market. “What I learned from this all is that a merger between law firms is really about merging attitudes and minds of people, not merely about combining bodies together. Establishing personal bonds is critical,” he said.
A Credible Alternative to Major League International Firms
When asked what motivated him to establish his own firm, Mr. Kwok said that his aim was to build a champion domestic law firm with his partners that could provide a credible alternative to the major league international law firms in the market.
“I think the Hong Kong legal market has plenty of room for the development of some strong domestic firms that also have a strong international outlook,” he said. “In the business sector, many Hong Kong corporations (for instance, Cathay Pacific, Cheung Kong, China Light and Power, Hutchison, HSBC, Jardine Matheson, Johnson Electric, Kerry and Shangri-la Group, Li & Fung, MTR, New World Group, Peninsula Group, Power Assets, Sun Hung Kai, Swire Pacific, Wharf Group, etc) have become very prominent domestically in Hong Kong as well as internationally. My thought is why can’t Hong Kong law firms do the same?”
In fulfilling the demands of his role at the IPCC, Mr. Kwok says his background in law has been the most useful. As the IPCC Chairman, he is tasked with reviewing and endorsing all complaint investigation cases. Such reviews inevitably and unavoidably involve disputed facts and legal issues. “My legal training helps me see the issues more clearly and analyse cases with relative ease,” he said.
Mr. Kwok also finds his management experience with international law firms and his accounting background to be extremely useful. It has equipped him well in managing an organisation like the IPCC. Whether he is analysing budgets and financial positions or evaluating the IPCC’s current management structure and considering different priorities, his experience enables him to look at issues from a “broader perspective.” “My background in accounting and management experience have been particularly helpful and have put me in good stead to grasp the issues when it comes to understanding the utilisation of resources in a company or organisation,” he explained.
Equally beneficial in this role has been his previous public service work since the late 1980s. Not only has it given him valuable insight on how to better serve the Hong Kong community, it has also enabled him to meet and deal with a variety of people outside of his professional circles. “The relationships I have developed through these interactions have helped me to better appreciate and accommodate those with different and sometimes opposing views. To a large extent,” he continued, “most people are unknowingly held hostage by their backgrounds, habits, training and philosophies.” He noted that it was important to recognise this about others, as these boundaries are difficult to break through.
Mr. Kwok also noted that his interest in viewing situations from multiple perspectives has helped him in dealing with many challenges he has faced as the Chairman of the IPCC, especially those related to the Occupy Movement. He believes that everyone has blind spots and that listening to opposite points of view gives you a more complete picture.
As indicated in the 17th issue of the IPCC Newsletter released on 12 October 2015, the complaint work in relation to the Occupy Movement has put considerable strain on the IPCC, as incidents surrounding the protests have given rise to the most Reportable Complaints since the establishment of the IPCC as an independent statutory body in 2009.
Over the past year, Mr. Kwok indicated that both the Complaints Against Police Office (“CAPO”) and the IPCC have been tirelessly working to handle all Occupy-related cases. He also noted that once the protests began, CAPO started receiving complaints, and immediately commenced their handling process. Since October 2014, the IPCC has been following up with CAPO about these complaints. In November 2014, the IPCC began receiving CAPO investigation reports on these cases, and immediately started reviewing them.
For those not familiar with the operations of the IPCC, an independent civilian oversight body established under the Independent Police Complaints Ordinance (“IPCCO”) (Cap. 604), it is part of Hong Kong’s two tier police complaints system, which is similar to that in the United Kingdom and Canada. Its two main functions include monitoring the handling and investigation of complaints against the police, and identifying any fault or deficiency in any police practices or procedures that has led to or might give rise to complaints and making recommendations to the Commissioner of Police and/or Chief Executive accordingly.
However, Mr. Kwok explained, the IPCC does not investigate complaints against the police – that instead falls within the purview of CAPO, the first tier of the police complaints system. The IPCC, as the second tier of the system, scrutinises investigation reports after CAPO has completed the investigation of a Reportable Complaint, operating similarly to an appellate court.
Special Efforts to Expedite Vetting of Occupy Complaints
In view of the widespread public interest, Mr. Kwok said that the IPCC placed all the Occupy Movement complaints under monitoring by the Serious Complaints Committee (“SCC”). Cases placed under the SCC’s purview require CAPO to report to the IPCC on their progress. The IPCC Secretariat’s vetting team and the SCC examine the reports simultaneously, to expedite the vetting process.
To ensure all Occupy Movement complaints, regardless of their categorisation, would receive prompt attention by the SCC without hampering the efficiency of the vetting process for cases requiring full investigation, a Special Task Force (“STF”) was set up to examine “Withdrawn”, “Not Pursuable”, “Informally Resolved” and “Notifiable Complaint” cases. Within the Secretariat, three vetting teams were designated to handle the Occupy Movement complaints. Two teams were responsible for “Reportable Complaints” – one focusing on those from Hong Kong Island, and the other for those from Kowloon – while the third dealt with “Notifiable Complaints”. Another team was established to deal with the statistics on these complaints.
CAPO also set up two special teams to handle Occupy-related complaints. CAPO’s special teams and the IPCC Secretariat met regularly to sort out issues involved so as to expedite the process for reviewing these complaints. If and when necessary, working level meetings presided over by IPCC Members were arranged to discuss cases of interest with CAPO. When necessary, the Council would also convene special in-house meetings to deliberate on particular cases.
As of 9 October 2015, CAPO has classified 172 cases as reportable to the IPCC, 150 of which have been submitted to the IPCC for scrutiny. Of the “Reportable Complaint”1 investigation reports received by the IPCC, 17 required full investigation, representing around 10 percent of all “Reportable Complaints”; 126 cases have either been withdrawn by complainants or considered “Not Pursuable” mostly because the complainant could not be reached.
Mr. Kwok said that it was worth noting that a majority of the Occupy Movement complaints have been “Notifiable Complaints.”2 These complaints are so classified because they were anonymous, or were lodged by persons who were not directly affected by the alleged police misconduct. In many of these cases, complainants learned about the incidences through media reports.
Resisting Pressure from Stakeholders
Immediately after the Movement broke out, Mr.Kwok said that some stakeholders began putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the IPCC to “comment” or express opinions on Occupy-related incidences before the IPCC had even obtained any official full report. “Resistance to succumb to these pressures has been extremely challenging,” he said. He also noted that it has been challenging to maintain a balanced perspective and remain calm, especially with the amount of strain the number of complaints has put on the IPCC’s complaints mechanism. Mr.Kwok indicated that the IPCC has taken a methodical and measured approach to dealing with the increased work flow and has been diligent in correcting any misperceptions among members of the media or public.
Our Work has Special Meaning
In spite of the challenges, Mr. Kwok indicated that he finds the IPCC’s work to have special meaning, not just to him, but also to the staff. “We all hope that our work can help the police force raise the quality of their service and indirectly enhance the police-community relations,” he said. “This seems very much aligned with the police force’s stated value of remaining dedicated to providing quality services and continuously improving.”
Mr. Kwok’s predecessor, Jat Sew-Tong, SBS, SC, JP, has described the IPCC as transforming from a “back-seat” monitoring body to an independent statutory body with a respectable degree of public recognition. Mr. Kwok intends to continue to build upon his predecessor’s legacy.
Specifically, he plans to further optimise the operation and administration of the Secretariat. Key actions that have or will be taken include:
- having a new Deputy Secretary-General join the Secretariat in May 2015;
- conducting a human resources review by the end of 2015 to see if the IPCC’s resources can be better allocated;
- exploring new ways to utilise information technology to improve the IPCC’s service quality and records management;
- refining the complaints review process systematically (eg, determining areas that can be streamlined to speed up the vetting process and to better categorise complaint cases);
- improving the quality of the vetting work through more professional training, including a joint workshop for the vetting team with CAPO and a workshop for the IPCC Council Members to keep them up-to-date with the latest developments in the skills and methods employed in reviewing cases;
- if resources allow, the IPCC also plans to more efficiently deploy its current team of 110 observers, in hopes of improving its attendance rate at CAPO interviews and its collection of evidence from 80 to 100 percent.
Message for Young Solicitors
During the interview, Mr. Kwok shared some of his observations from his dealings with people of diverse backgrounds. Some of the key takeaways he was most interested in sharing with young solicitors include:
- Be sincere and genuine in dealing with people. Also, be honest with yourself and do not pretend to be something or someone that you are not.
- Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
- Try to see things from other people’s perspective so that you can better understand their needs or the situation.
- Do not ask for or even think about reward when you work. Be patient, your good work will be appreciated. If you are good at what you do and do it well, reward will sooner or later come to you.
- Try to learn from adverse situations. Adversity provides the best opportunity to learn and to “strengthen” what you have.
- Be confident, but know your limitations.
- Listen to opposite views or opinions to make sure you have no blind spots or have covered as many angles as possible.
1. “Reportable Complaints”, as defined in IPCCO s. 11, refer to complaints lodged by members of the public, which are not vexatious or frivolous and are made in good faith, relating to the conduct of police officers while on duty or who identify themselves as police officers while off duty. Such complaints should be made by or on behalf of persons directly affected by the alleged police misconduct.
2. “Notifiable Complaints”, as defined in IPCCO s. 14, are complaints not categorised as “Reportable Complaints”, or complaints that need not be submitted to the IPCC as listed in s. 10 of the IPCCO. These include anonymous complaints or complaints lodged by persons who are not directly affected by the alleged police misconduct.
Larry Kwok, BBS, JP
Chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council
Mr. Kwok is also Chairman of Transport Advisory Committee, member of Committee on Real Estate Investment Trusts of Securities and Futures Commission, Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Advisory Committee, Social Workers Registration Board and Hospital Governing Committee of Prince of Wales Hospital.
Previously, Mr. Kwok served as Vice-Chairman of Consumer Council, Convenor of Disciplinary Appeals Committee of Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Chairman of Traffic Accident Victims Assistance Advisory Committee, a member of Competition Commission, Hong Kong Tourism Board, Mainland Opportunities Committee of the Financial Services Development Council, Land and Development Advisory Committee, Expert Panel on Listing and Corporate Finance Committee of HKICPA.
Mr. Kwok is a practising lawyer and a partner of Kwok Yih & Chan, Solicitors. He was previously managing partner for China and Hong Kong operations of a couple of international law firms. He is a qualified solicitor in Hong Kong, Australia, England and Singapore. He is also a qualified accountant in England, Hong Kong and Australia.