The Law Society’s submissions on the Chief Executive’s 2018 Policy Address in August focused on three broad aspects:
- Facilitating the development of the legal profession to support Hong Kong’s social and economic development as a whole within “One Country, Two Systems”;
- Promoting access to justice; and
- Creating an environment that is conducive to the retention of legal talent in Hong Kong.
The detailed submissions are posted on the Law Society website.
On 10 October 2018, the Chief Executive announced her Policy Address. In evaluating the synergy between the work of the Government and the Law Society for the legal profession, it may be helpful to see to what extent the major initiatives presented in the Policy Address are in alignment with the broad aspects raised in the Law Society submissions.
On the development of the legal profession, among other issues, the Law Society urges the Government to put in resources to facilitate the use of technology in legal practices and to put in place long-term education planning to properly prepare the next generation to master and take advantage of the rapid evolution of information technology.
On this front, the allocation of resources highlighted in the Policy Address appears to relate more to the research aspect on innovation and technology by universities and research centres and to the manufacturing sector with respect to “re-industralisation”. For legal practices, though there is no specific relevant new initiative, practitioners may find the Technology Voucher Programme useful.
On education, the Government confirms its continuous support for the promotion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in primary and secondary schools.
While on the school curriculum, the Law Society has also been advocating for 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. This aspect however has so far not been fully addressed, though it is noted that a new initiative of publishing a combined English-Chinese Glossary and a combined Chinese-English Glossary of Legal Terms on the website of the Department of Justice has been included.
In relation to the development of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Greater Bay Area, the Law Society urges the Government to allocate more resources to proactively secure a role for the Hong Kong legal sector, to promote the legal profession’s unique qualities, to provide more market information and guidance on the future policy directions, and to modernise facilities to host international conferences which create an excellent opportunity for the local profession to reach out to the international community and showcase its capabilities.
Many of the policy areas in the Policy Address do involve the Belt and Road Initiative and the Greater Bay Area. The overall direction is to allocate more resources to promote Hong Kong as a professional services hub supporting the city as an international centre for capital raising and financing, asset and wealth management, offshore Renminbi business and dispute resolution under the Belt and Road Initiative is generally consistent with our wishlist. With respect to our lobby for more international convention and exhibition (“C & E”) facilities, the Government confirms its commitment to actively increase the supply of C & E venues and facilities, including developing Wan Chai North into a C & E hub in Asia.
On the promotion of access to justice, the Law Society urges the Government to allocate more resources to the Judiciary to ensure that the public can access justice at reasonable speed as the long waiting time for trial dates and handing down judgments is causing concern. In the Policy Address, the Government has confirmed that legislative amendments will be made to extend the statutory retirement ages for judges and judicial officers to 70 (judges at the level of the Court of First Instance of the High Court and above) and 65 (judicial officers below the High Court level) to help retain experienced judges. Further, the Government will support the planned construction of a new High Court at the new Central harbour-front, as well as a new District Court at Caroline Hill Road to house the District Court, the Family Court and the Lands Tribunal. This aims to address the long-term accommodation needs in respect of courts and offices at the High Court and District Court levels.
However, the extension of the retirement age for judges and judicial officers may not address the recruitment difficulties of the Judiciary. As pointed out in the Law Society’s submissions, the issue is not and should not be merely a matter of headcounts. It is vital to attract the suitably qualified candidates. Although remuneration by itself is not the only factor that a private practitioner will consider when deciding whether to join the Bench, the widening gap in earnings between private practice and the Bench could on occasions serve as a disincentive to aspiring practitioners. This issue is yet to be addressed.
With respect to the Law Society’s submissions on environmental protection for talent retention, the Policy Address has covered a number of initiatives to protect the environment including, among others, tightening the emission standards for newly registered motorcycles, providing additional resources for the implementation of waste reduction and recycling; taking the lead to avoid using disposable plastic tableware and developing renewable energy.
As a local professional body, our resources are limited. To champion our work for the profession, we will continue to lobby for stronger support of the Government and it looks there is still much work to be done.