Hong Kong Bar Association: New leader, new management

A view of the Hong Kong skyline. /APC

A view of the Hong Kong skyline. /APC

Editor’s note: Zhu Zheng is an assistant professor specializing in constitutional law and politics at the China University of Political Science and Law. The article reflects the opinions of the author, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The Hong Kong Bar Association elected Victor Dawes as its new president this week. The news caught the attention of domestic and foreign media, with Dawes pledging to protect Hong Kong’s rule of law and, more importantly, to avoid politics and forge closer ties with the Hong Kong mainland. China.

Dawes replaced human rights lawyer Paul Harris, who had criticized the National Security Act and been called an “anti-China politician”. On the contrary, Dawes has been seen as a low-key lawyer who prefers to stay away from politics.

Although he received his legal training in the UK, Dawes is considered a pro-establishment figure. He said he would devote himself to unfreezing the Hong Kong Bar Association’s frosty relationship with the mainland. In a recent interview, Dawes also told reporters that the rule of law is “not a political concept” and that “political topics are not something the Bar Association should deal with or discuss.”

This contrasts sharply with a predecessor, Philip Dykes, for example, who made the professional body more vocal on important legal issues that had brought its routine dealings with the Continent to a complete halt.

In addition, British-born Harris had been lambasted by the Liaison Office for “spreading distorted opinion” and said the association under his leadership was “sinking into an abyss”. Due to the political position of these presidents, the professional group had been strongly “politicized”.

A ship bearing the slogan ‘Celebrating the enactment of the People’s Republic of China Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR’ in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, south China’s July 1, 2020. /Xinhua

A ship bearing the slogan ‘Celebrating the enactment of the People’s Republic of China Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR’ in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, south China’s July 1, 2020. /Xinhua

Dawes, however, prefers to avoid outbreaks that could irritate the central government. According to him, lawyers should not be seen as “politicians in wigs” and the role of the association itself is not a political story.

The above statements were interpreted by analysts in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) as sending positive signals. By any measure, this means that Dawes wants to restore ties with the Chinese mainland and that the role that the Hong Kong Bar Association plays in the administration of justice will be normalized.

It must be aware that, from a strategic point of view, putting the association back on the right track and improving relations with the metropolis will yield at least three positive results.

First, the professional body itself will continue to thrive. For years, the ties between the metropolis and the Bar have been strained due to the political positions taken by certain leaders. Watched by Paul Harris, for example, the liaison office once warned that if the association failed to sever ties with its president, the 73-year-old Hong Kong body would face a range of consequences. .

A reset of the relationship would therefore be very necessary to “save” the body.

Second, maintaining a positive interaction with the mainland would help accomplish the purpose of the body. As the only body of lawyers, the Hong Kong Bar Association would prescribe not only rules of professional conduct, discipline and etiquette, but also a better understanding of the legal profession and the improvement of administration justice in Hong Kong.

After the turmoil and chaos of the city, many senior lawyers argued that “the bar needs people who only talk about professional matters, opportunities and practice development, but who will stay committed to the ‘rule of law’. Instead of “politicizing” the body, the new leader aims to heal the division between different factions and get the group back on track, which is in the interests of the entire legal profession in Hong Kong.

With a new president and a few changes of compass, the association seems to be on the verge of abandoning politics and readjusting to its functions as an independent professional body that will protect the interests of its members and uphold the values ​​of the state. by right. . With this in mind, the association could open a new path to the future.

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