Chairman's Speech at the Opening of the Legal Year 2002
Speech at the Opening of Legal Year 2002
The Honourable Chief Justice, the Secretary for Justice, the President of the Law Society, Honourable Judges, Distinguished Guests and members of the legal profession, ladies and gentlemen:
I have tried to be at every Opening of Legal Year for all the years that I have been a barrister. I come not just to see and be seen. I come because I want to feel that I am part of Hong Kong’s legal fraternity and to be amongst men and women learned in the law who believe in the Rule of Law and are determined to see that the institution continues to prevail and flourish in the territory. During the year, we may have been too busy fulfilling commitments and discharging duties that we simply do not have time to reflect on our role as lawyers and what such a role means to us, to our neighbours and to Hong Kong as a whole. Opening of Legal Year provides the golden opportunity for us to step back, just for a while, to retrace the path we covered in the year past and to chart the path in the year ahead. More importantly, we have the chance to reflect on the role each of us plays in our legal system.
Living up to the best traditions of the Bar, I see barristers as fulfilling three important roles in today’s Hong Kong besides discharging duties owed to individual clients in cases we are handling. These are pro bono server, law reformer and law teacher.
Talking about pro bono service, the Bar’s Free Legal Service Scheme has served its purpose of providing free advice and representation to individuals in need of legal service but who can neither afford private lawyers nor obtain legal aid. There are now more than 100 barristers enrolled as volunteers to serve under the Scheme. While the Bar’s Free Legal Service Scheme is the most direct and often-quoted example of pro bono service barristers have provided, one must not ignore other forms of free service we have provided to society. These include service on government committees, advisory boards, appeal boards, boards of non-government organizations and other supervisory and consultative bodies.
In a society that practises the Rule of Law, the majority of law reforms should come from the people instead of being imposed from above and lawyers should be initiators of such reforms. Besides those who serve as Honourable Members of our Legislature, there are many barristers who have served as members of the Law Reform Commission. The Bar is never slow to give opinions on draft legislations when consulted by the Legislative Council, and this will continue.
Of the three roles, that of law teacher is the most important. It is only when the man in the street sees the beauty of the Rule of Law and understands how the system has worked to his benefit and for his protection that he will cherish and defend it. And, it is only with public support for the Rule of Law that it will continue to flourish and thrive.
To fully discharge the role of law teacher, the Bar readily appears in public forum and private seminars and goes on television and radio programmes to explain in succinct and everyday language what are otherwise difficult legal concepts and principles. The Bar has been writing articles in popular Chinese newspapers to share with the masses what Rule of Law truly means and how the institution is meant to keep the powerful under check and to protect the weak from abuse. The Bar has also been visiting secondary schools and universities to share with future leaders of our society values conveyed by the Rule of Law that we have held dearly to our hearts. Hong Kong must understand that a World City that truly practises the Rule of Law must use its laws to protect fundamental human rights and freedoms. Laws are not simply there to serve the ruler as a tool to govern. To these ends, the Bar looks forward to working in partnership with all concerned to better promote legal education amongst the general public.
The Bar has been respected for its principled, rational and well-reasoned stand taken on issues concerning the Rule of Law and proper administration of justice in the territory. The more notable of these in the year 2001 included the debates on Public Order Ordinance, Government’s power to refer Basic Law articles for interpretation by NPCSC, Anti Cult Legislation, Chief Executive Election Bill and Denial of education to Children on Recognizance. The Bar will continue to inform highly controversial, and at times politically-charged, debates on public issues of the proper perspective to be adopted in approaching questions of law. When every other participant in such debates has some vested interest to pursue or its own agenda to follow, the impartial and unbiased legal opinion rendered professionally by the Bar not only comes as a breath of fresh air, but sets the parameters for meaningful discussions.
The public’s understanding about the Rule of Law increases each time it tries to follow and participate in these debates. The contribution of such debates to the public understanding of the Rule of Law can be better achieved if the Government does not adopt a defensive mentality but genuinely engages in true dialogues with the public by explaining its policies and the legal principles it sees as involved. Such a more constructive approach will help not only to better educate the public about the Rule of Law, but will definitely help to minimize unnecessary antagonism that leads inevitably to wastage of time and resources from within that could be more meaningfully deployed elsewhere.
For barristers to continue to effectively serve the public as advocates and play the roles of law teachers, reformers and pro bono service providers, there must be a strong and independent Bar.
The Bar is well aware of the need to enhance the standards of its members. The Bar has been working closely with both the University of Hong Kong and the City University with a view to improving the quality of graduates from the Postgraduate Certificate of Laws Programme who are budding barristers. Besides the introduction of the Advanced Legal Education Programme since four years ago, the Bar just introduced a Mandatory Programme for pupils that requires pupils to have obtained 14 aggregate points during their pupillage before they can be considered for full practice. 8 of those points must be obtained by participating in workshops organized on Advocacy, Legal Drafting and Professional Ethics and Etiquette. The Special Committee on Pupillage has recently issued guidelines for both pupil masters and pupils with a view to achieving an even better scrutiny of the training process.
In order to make the legal process more accessible to the public, the Bar had at an early stage made its own recommendations for streamlining the civil justice system. Some of these have been adopted by the Judiciary’s Working Party on Civil Justice Reform as useful proposals.
All these efforts are evidence of the Bar very much having the interest of those it serves at heart.
A strong and independent Bar will exist only if the Bar continues to attract talented young men and women to join its ranks. These talented young men and women will only join the ranks of barristers if they can see prospects by pursuing a career at the Bar. Such logic is simple enough and requires no elaboration. I ask our society to bear this in mind when it is visited by proposals to reform the legal profession in Hong Kong.
My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, what remains is for me to wish all of you a happy and fulfilling 2002.
Alan Leong, S.C.
Dated this 7th day of January 2002.