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Asia: Fears over Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy see vote of no confidence passed in local law society head

Hong Kong lawyers turned out in force last night (14 August) to cast a vote of no confidence in local law society president Ambrose Lam, following his recent support of a Beijing white paper perceived to raise issues over Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

At an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) called by more than 50 Hong Kong lawyers in June, a majority of 2,392 lawyers last night cast a vote of no confidence in the president, with 1,478 lawyers voting against it, despite law firms reporting pressure from clients on the mainland not to pass the motion.

Lam, managing partner at Lam Lee & Lai, was elected president of the Hong Kong Law Society in May 2013, leading a team of 95 staff who oversee more than 5,800 solicitors in private practice across over 800 Hong Kong law firms, as well as more than 900 foreign lawyers.

After calling for local judges to be more patriotic, Lam has been widely criticised by Hong Kong lawyers fearful of policies in mainland China that could hinder the region’s judicial autonomy.

Hong Kong lawyers also voted at the EGM by a majority of 2,747 to 1,081 to pass a resolution forcing the Law Society to issue a statement that ‘nothing set out in the white paper recently issued by the information office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China shall detract from or undermine’ the rule of law and the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary. A motion was also passed demanding that Lam withdraw his statements on the white paper.

A Hong-Kong qualified solicitor at a Magic Circle firm told Legal Business: ‘Lam had no mandate to make those comments. What is terrible is that lawyers have been phoned by clients on the mainland warning that if they stand in the way of this [and vote against Lam] then they won’t get any work. This did not affect the vote. To say the judiciary is an organ of the state is something I don’t agree with. The general meeting has been handled in a very professional manner.’