The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) caused ripples last week by issuing a statement strongly criticizing the decision made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on the co-location arrangement for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.
In the statement the association referred to the NPCSC decision as “the most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law, and severely undermines public confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law in the HKSAR.”
The surprisingly strongly worded statement came at a time when the incumbent HKBA chairman Paul Lam Ting-kwok had come under fire recently for his equivocal stance on the co-location arrangement that will see mainland immigration, customs, quarantine, border control and security officials operating in a designated area at the West Kowloon Terminus.
Observers believe Lam’s tough stance on the NPCSC decision would help clear suspicions of “red infiltration” within the HKBA, and substantially boost his prospects in the upcoming bar association chairperson election scheduled for Jan. 18, in which he and prominent human rights barrister Philip Dykes will square off.
Many in the legal circles expect that the race between Lam, who is aggressively seeking re-election as chairman, and Dykes, who is also working aggressively to unseat Lam in order to advance his pro-democracy agenda in the HKBA, is going to be a tough one.
Campaigning under the slogan of “Strong Bar” and pledging to be more vocal about defending the rule of law and the judicial independence of Hong Kong once elected, Dykes is supported by the Civic Party heavyweights such as Alan Leong Kah-kit and Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee.
In comparison, his opponent Lam is endorsed by three former chairpersons of the HKBA — Ronny Tong Ka-wah, Russell Coleman and Winnie Tam Wan-chi.
Even though their supporter camps seem to be equally star-studded, some in the legal sector have pointed out that Lam could be having an advantage over Dykes in that while the former has secured support from prominent barristers from a wider political spectrum and could therefore appeal to a wider demographic, the latter may largely only appeal to the “yellow-ribbon” barristers due to his close connections with student leaders and prominent Civic Party figures.
As Tong, who has endorsed Lam, put it during an interview earlier on, the HKBA under the next chairperson should keep a lower profile, and remain impartial as well as depoliticized when it comes to controversial political issues.
However, Dykes supporter Leong argued that political party background shouldn’t be seen as a liability for supporting any candidate running for HKBA chairman, citing his own example from the past when he used to be chairman of the association.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 29
Translation by Alan Lee
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