The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) has issued a rare open letter rejecting criticism from legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok, over its practice of not commenting on ongoing legal cases.

A HKBA subcommittee document was revealed in September which questioned the legality of the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement, and urged the Association to “exceptionally” voice concerns. But the HKBA then issued a statement that said it was inappropriate to comment when a court hearing had been fixed on the matter.

Kwok said at the time that the HKBA has no such practice, as it had issued press releases five times for ongoing cases in the past.

Dennis Kwok. Photo: In-Media.

Kwok criticised former HKBA chair Winnie Tam for saying that it will not issue statements relating to ongoing cases, as it issued two statements when the judicial review against then-lawmakers Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching was ongoing during Tam’s tenure.

He also accused the association of hiding behind “professionalism” to suppress reasonable opinions that oppose the government, referring to the joint checkpoint arrangement.

The mechanism involves “leasing” land to China and effectively giving up Hong Kong jurisdiction across a quarter of the new West Kowloon express rail terminus for faster immigration procedures performed by mainland law enforcement agents. It has been heavily criticised by pro-democracy activists, who say that it is a violation of Basic Law.

‘An aspersion’

In a 35-page open letter issued on Thursday signed by incumbent chair Paul Lam, the HKBA said Kwok’s comments “connote an aspersion.”

“Such connotation is untrue, unjustified, and premised on (1) factual inaccuracies and (2) an unfairly skewed reading of the Five Press Releases,” it said.

Paul Lam. Photo: Stand News.

The letter quoted parts of the press releases, which stated that the Association conforms to the practice.

For instance, it quoted the HKBA’s statement in 2012 over the foreign domestic helpers right of abode final appeals, which said: “When a matter is sub judice, high-profiled commentary and conjecture might be perceived to add unnecessary pressure to those concerned, and are best avoided.” The letter noted that this stance was the same as the one Tam had expressed.

“Each of them confirms the existence of and the hitherto adherence by the HKBA to such a practice,” the letter stated.

Winnie Tam. File

Kwok said he was surprised by the open letter: “I don’t know if more time was spent responding to me, as its statement on the joint checkpoint arrangement only has three short paragraphs…”

“The public respects the legal sector… because we voice our concerns on important issues and at important times to explain to the public constitutional and legal issues. Regardless of your opinion, I hope HKBA will not hide behind the statement, and be afraid of telling the public the legal issues of the joint checkpoint arrangement.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.