I first took office as President of the Law Society in June 2018. I have assumed this role for nearly two years at the conclusion of the Annual General Meeting in the early hours of 29 May 2020.
Looking back, time has passed like it had wings. Yet, the multitude of unprecedented challenges faced by the profession and the Law Society as a whole was glaringly disproportionate to the fleetingly brief term. I thank with all my heart the tireless efforts and the unfailing support of the Council and the Secretariat in contributing to the enormous amount of work undertaken by the Law Society during this tumultuous period.
One of the most important roles of the Law Society is to safeguard the rule of law and to uphold the principles on which this core value is founded. In the first term of my presidency, the Law Society issued two press statements to defend our core values and articulate our position. One was in relation to public discussions on including political or ideological screening in the appointment of judges in June 2018. The other one was in July 2018 and related to the unjustified and derogatory comments made against a judge relating to her judgment and sentencing in a criminal case concerning the riot in Mongkok in 2016.
The public order events in Hong Kong started shortly after I was re-elected for a second term on 4 June 2019. Since then, the Law Society has issued 10 press statements to condemn all forms of violence, call for respect of the rule of law and judicial independence, and offer possible ways to address the concerns revealed in the social conflicts and to lead the healing process that follows. The suggestions made to the Government included the commission of an independent inquiry by a committee and the scope of tasks and the chairmanship of that committee, as well as a mediation pilot scheme to assist in mediating the community disputes arising from the social confrontations.
While closely monitoring the public order events and their impact on the rule of law, the Law Society had to ensure that our activities to promote the Hong Kong legal profession internationally could continue with minimum disruption. In November 2019, the Law Society jointly organised the LAWASIA Conference with LAWASIA in Hong Kong, which attracted over 600 participants from 30 jurisdictions around the world, notwithstanding the social unrest at the time. This created an excellent opportunity for Hong Kong to showcase its world-class legal capabilities and enabled local practitioners to expand their global network without having to travel outside Hong Kong.
While still busy tackling the impact of the public order events, Hong Kong was thrown into another crisis with the outbreak of COVID-19 towards the end of January 2020. The Law Society acted promptly to deal with the situation. An internal special work arrangement was immediately implemented to split the team into working in office and working remotely as an infection control measure, but ensuring minimum disruption to the Law Society’s normal operation.
To assist our members, the Law Society also immediately started working on a range of relief measures including reducing membership and practising certificate fees for 2021 and contribution to the Professional Indemnity Scheme for 2020/2021, waiving CPD course fees for 2020 and CPD/RME obligations for 2019/2020 and distributing free surgical masks and mask keepers to members. Externally, the Law Society lobbied 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. Further, the Law Society maintained close liaison with the Judiciary reflecting the views of members and offering suggestions on how to address issues arising from the general adjournment of court operations during the pandemic. The Law Society was also instrumental in the establishment of the Government’s LAWTECH Fund to assist practitioners to equip themselves with technological tools that enable them to continue practice, notwithstanding the public health condition.
We have also conducted a survey to solicit views from general members as to how the Law Society can assist them during these difficult times. As always, the Law Society is prepared to listen and we will continue to improve the channels of communication with our members.
With a diverse membership, we have the benefit of a wide range of perspectives, which provide a more holistic view, and facilitate a more thorough analysis, of the issues in question. As we embrace diversity, we must respect others’ rights in the same way as we expect others to respect ours. To make progress on the basis of such diverse views, it is important that we focus on common grounds, not differences; and solutions, not conflicts.
Talking about diversity, the Council’s election in 2018 and again in 2019 of myself, Vice Presidents Amirali Nasir, Brian Gilchrist and C M Chan, who represent diversity in gender, culture, religion, ethnicity and legal practice, speaks volumes about the inclusive culture at the Council. At the 2020 AGM, four new members were elected to the Council and I warmly welcome them as they bring with them different experiences and offer fresh perspectives.
The Law Society has always been fully committed to safeguarding the rule of law, exploring new opportunities, improving practice environment, providing relevant and effective support to members, maintaining the highest professional standards and giving back to community. Challenges will continue to come our way and as a team, our Council will continue championing these meaningful causes.