Being the executive authority responsible for formulating and implementing policies and drawing up budgets for the allocation of resources, the government is in a unique position to influence and determine the future development of the territory. Government leadership in showing support for an initiative, a project or a sector raises territory wide awareness and motivates progress.
I was deeply impressed by the strong support given by the Sri Lankan Government to its legal profession at the recent POLA (Presidents of Law Associations of Asia) Summit hosted by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in Colombo. His Excellency, Hon. Maithripala Sirisena, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, attended the Summit. Prime Minister Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Attorney General Hon. Jayantha Chandrasiri Jayasuriya also spared time to speak to the delegates. The gracious attention given by the national leader to the Summit speaks volumes about the respect and support the nation has for the legal sector reaching out to the international community.
Another example of strong government leadership in supporting the legal profession is Singapore. To encourage law firms to use technology to improve their productivity, the Singaporean Government has allocated up to S$2.8 million to law firms as funding support of up to 70 percent of the firms’ first-year’s cost for technology products in practice management, online research and online marketing.
In Hong Kong, the policy objectives of the government include enhancing Hong Kong’s status as a centre for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region and as a key link for the Belt and Road, leveraging on Hong Kong’s unique competitive qualities including the availability of legal talent with multi-jurisdictional practice experience.
In alignment of these policy objectives, the Law Society has been actively promoting Hong Kong legal services to the international community at every possible opportunity. We are also putting in substantial efforts to enhance the global understanding of the unique position of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China under the implementation of the concept of One Country, Two Systems. Through networking with law societies and bar associations around the world, the Law Society has established extensive connections with legal professionals in different overseas jurisdictions, laying a good foundation for future collaborative initiatives for the benefit of our members. On the other hand, the Law Society is injecting more cross-border and international elements in our professional training programmes to equip our members to meet the increasing demands for multi-jurisdictional legal and dispute resolution services.
While the Law Society is trying its best to champion these causes, as a local professional body, our resources are limited and it is disappointing that the Government has not been as supportive for the legal profession as in some other jurisdictions.
One recent frustrating experience was the rejection by the Government of the Law Society’s application for space in the West Wing of the former Central Government Offices (“CGO”), which has been set aside for use by law-related organisations. The Government aims to create a Legal Hub at the heart of Hong Kong comprising the West Wing of the former CGO, the former French Mission Building and the Department of Justice offices in the Main Wing and the East Wing of the former CGO. The Law Society is a law-related organisation that has put in much effort to promote Hong Kong’s legal and dispute resolution services and is in need of additional space to continue to do so. The denial of our presence in the Legal Hub is disappointing, which is telling of the level of support the Government accords to the legal profession.
Apart from direct support like allocation of space, there is also room for improvement in the indirect support that the Government can give to the legal profession. Just to list a few examples of support that the Government may provide:
- more market information and more guidance on policy direction in economic initiatives (eg, on the priority jurisdictions in the vast area covered by the Belt and Road Initiative that the legal service sector should focus its efforts in exploring expansion opportunities);
- more resources to improve and modernise Hong Kong’s capability to host international legal conferences enabling the legal profession to strengthen its worldwide connections;
- more resources to support training for practising law in Chinese including strengthening the bilingual capability of students from early schooling and building up a comprehensive supply of resources in respect of law books, precedents and judgments in Chinese;
- more resources to enable the implementation of appropriate technological tools to improve the efficiency of the legal system;
- long-term education planning to properly prepare the next generation to master and take advantage of the rapid evolution of information technology.
The legal profession is the backbone of society tasked with the heavy responsibility of defending the Rule of Law and protecting the legal rights of the public. It is important that the profession maintains a healthy and sustainable development. Support from the Government to achieve this is essential. Members’ views and wish lists on what the Government can do more to support the development of the profession are always welcome.