Human rights lawyer Philip Dykes SC has denied that his run for Bar Council chair will divide the Bar, whilst his campaign marks the first time in ten years that the barristers’ organisation has seen competition in its annual election.

Dykes will be up against incumbent chairman Paul Lam in a vote on January 18. The Bar Council governs the Bar Association, the influential professional organisation for barristers in Hong Kong. Five members on Dykes’ list of prominent lawyers met with reporters on Monday evening.

Dykes said it is “healthy every now and again that elections take place and that different views are expressed.”

Philip Dykes bar association
Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

The lawyer, who previously headed the Council in 2005 and 2006, also said that he would not have entered the election if he were not confident. “I like to think that I have a reasonable chance, because I’ve done the job before, quite successfully, I’m told, by people who witnessed my performance.”

Using the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement as an example, Dykes said the association needed to speak with clarity on what the issues were and why the government’s explanations were not satisfactory.

He also said they anticipate a number of issues in the coming year, including the national anthem law and the legislation of Article 23 – the controversial national security law. “The Bar has a special responsibility in scrutinising legislative proposals. And I believe I can do that,” Dykes said.

Young barristers

However, Dykes and his team emphasised that they did not wish to politicise the association, and that members came first for the professional organisation.

The team released a platform earlier that day focusing on reforming legal aid and providing more assistance to young barristers. Dykes said that the Bar is a collection of its members and that junior members are particularly in need of a helping hand.

“Without a viable junior bar, you would not have a good working bar ten years hence,” Dykes said.

Philip Dykes bar association
Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

“Regardless of the amount of time spent discussing issues of rule of law or judicial independence, if we do not even have a younger generation who can make it in this field, any question of principle is irrelevant. Because if they are facing livelihood problems… they will not have the time or energy to deal with these issues,” lawyer Randy Shek said.

“Politicising’ the Bar

Shek said that they “absolutely agree” with other candidates that the Bar Association should not be politicised. “Our team does not have any political background, and we were not urged by politicians to run in order to help them push a certain political agenda,” Shek said.

“We strongly believe that even when certain topics touch upon sensitive political issues, we would speak from the perspective of the law. It is undeniable that the law in many ways has a connection with politics, but as a professional organisation, the Bar Council will only speak from law and reason,” Shek said.

Shek also said that although some candidates have taken part in politically controversial cases, they played the role of a lawyer and protected the rights of their clients, in order for the court to come to a fair and just decision.

“If some barristers are saying that us representing certain individuals will politicise the Bar Association, that is very disappointing, because that disregards our profession and our professional conduct,” Shek said, adding that there are also members of the Bar Council who represented the government in controversial cases.

Lawrence Lok, for instance, has represented both Joshua Wong and other Occupy activists, as well as one of the seven police officers found guilty of assaulting activist Ken Tsang during the same 2014 movement. Shek has also represented Occupy protesters.

Philip Dykes
Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

When asked about new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, who is facing backlash over the discovery of illegal structures at her home, the candidates refused to respond, despite Lok saying earlier on Monday that she should resign.

Dykes said that it was too early to take a position and that it was a personal incident, but added that she has the necessary experience for the Secretary of Justice position. “Let’s see how she performs.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.