It is my greatest honour to be given the opportunity to serve as President of the Law Society for the third term from 9 June 2020. I am deeply grateful for the trust and confidence that fellow Council members have placed in me. I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Mr Amirali Nasir, Mr Brian Gilchrist and Mr C M Chan on their re-election as Vice-Presidents for the new term. I thank them for their unfailing support in the past year and look forward to working with them to champion the initiatives of the Law Society for the benefit of our profession.
Many a times, challenges do come our way and we tackle them, but never have we felt such helplessness. Polarisation of political views resulting in violent social conflicts, coupled with the public health crisis that has necessitated a radical change of our way of life, have created an uneasy sense of uncertainty about the future.
Yet, an amazing paradox is that faced with such uncertainty, our ability to cope with it will be the only security that we have in our future. I believe that we do have the ability not only to cope with the uncertainty, but also to rise above it and grow stronger than before.
The public health crisis has brought out the loving care that we have for one another. We have stood united in our fight against the pandemic. What the Law Society has done in the crisis, with the support of our members, is strong evidence of how we can re-create certainty by helping one another in every possible way.
Through the various measures taken by the Law Society, members are certain that their financial burden will be relieved through a reduction of membership and practising certificate fees for 2021 and contribution to the Professional Indemnity Scheme for 2020/2021, and a waiver of CPD course fees for 2020. The Law Society’s support in lobbying the Government for allocation of funding from the Anti-epidemic Fund to law firms, the Department of Justice and the Legal Aid Department for speedy settlement of legal fees to practitioners, landlords for reduced office rentals and banks for preferential financial facilities applicable to law firms has also given members comfort that there are other sources that will ease their cash flow problems.
Further, through a waiver of the CPD/RME obligations for 2019/2020, members are given the certainty that they will have the flexibility to complete those obligations within 2020/21 so that they have more time to deal with the practice issues arising from COVID-19.
The Law Society was also instrumental in the establishment of the Government’s LAWTECH Fund so that eligible members are certain that they will have some financial support to equip themselves with technological tools that enable them to continue practice, notwithstanding the public health condition. The deadline for the application period for the LAWTECH Fund has been extended for one month from 26 June to 26 July 2020. The amount reimbursed under the LAWTECH Fund to eligible law firms will be covered by tax exemptions.
Another crucial factor in creating certainty is our confidence in the existence of the rule of law in Hong Kong. In his eminent speeches, our Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma has listed, for the purposes of evaluating the existence of the rule of law in Hong Kong, six indicators as far as the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice in Hong Kong are concerned. They include the transparency of the legal system, public access to the reasons for the outcome of any court proceedings, ability of the public to verify that all judicial decisions have been made according to law and according to the spirit of the law through the reasons provided for the decisions, the system of the independent appointment of judges, effective access to justice, and views towards the court of those who are in regular contact with the legal system.
The recent public discussions on the draft law on safeguarding national security to be introduced by the National People’s Congress (“NPC”) into Annex III of the Basic Law and to take effect in Hong Kong by promulgation centred around concerns over the uncertainties relating to some of the above indicators.
While the Law Society acknowledges that, as the highest state organ and legislative body of PRC, the NPC under the Constitution has the power to institute a law for maintaining national security, we consider that the NPC should exercise restraint in invoking its power to introduce laws to be applied to Hong Kong. This is important in order to maintain confidence in the One Country Two Systems policy and the rule of law in Hong Kong.
In the public statements of the Law Society dated 11 and 24 June 2020, which are posted on the Law Society website, the Law Society details our concerns and provides proposals to address those concerns. For instance, about the designation by the Chief Executive of current or former judges or magistrates at any level to handle cases concerning national security, to ensure that judicial independence is maintained, the Law Society proposes that such process of designation should only be made upon the recommendations of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission and (in the case of former judges) in line with Articles 88 and 92 of the Basic Law. Where appropriate the Chief Justice should be consulted.
Our proposals aim to ensure that the national security law complies with the One Country Two Systems policy and accords with the common law principles, to foster a sense of certainty in our existing systems and to maintain confidence in the rule of law in Hong Kong.