Hong Kong’s professional body of solicitors will hold its annual election at the end of this month, with nine candidates competing for five spots on the Law Society’s governing council.

The race made headlines last year after candidates favoured by the pro-Beijing camp received unexpectedly strong backing. Four of the five seats went to conservative candidates, while legal scholar Eric Cheung – originally expected to win the most votes – came in last.

At the time, top Beijing advisor Elsie Leung and other legal sector heavyweights cautioned against “politicising” the Law Society.

President of the Law Society of Hong Kong Melissa Pang.

This year’s election will see two incumbents – Simon Lai and Roden Tong – seeking another term. Another returning figure will be human rights lawyer Mark Daly, who was on the Council from 2015 to 2018 but lost his seat last year.

New contenders Ronald Kan and Doreen Kong are considered to be close to the pro-establishment bloc, with Kong being an organiser of a 2014 silent protest opposing the Umbrella Movement. Meanwhile, Kan recently proposed that Hong Kong solicitors be allowed to practice law in the Greater Bay Area.

The remaining four contenders are Calvin Cheng, Liew Chin-chong, Louise Wong and Yu Kwok-kin.

‘Backbone’ needed

One contentious topic among the candidates was the extradition bill proposed by the government, which would allow for case-based fugitive transfers to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no prior agreement.

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

While legal academics and the Hong Kong Bar Association had spoken out on the issue multiple times, the solicitors’ professional body had mostly kept quiet so far.

Of the nine candidates, only Louise Wong and Mark Daly agreed that the Law Society should call on the government to withdraw the bill. Daly told HKFP that the government’s attempt to rush the bill through the legislature “rang alarm bells.”

“[The extradition bill] is a complex issue, obviously there is huge concern in the community, and it shouldn’t be rushed. The Law Society should at least be making a statement going that far,” he said.

Citing his background in human rights law, Daly added that he believed the Law Society should take a stronger stance to defend Hong Kong’s rule of law.

Incumbent Law Society Council members seeking re-election Simon Lai (left) and Roden Tong (right). Photo: Law Society.

“Sometimes I think the Law Society needs to speak with a little more backbone on rule of law issues, and… beat the drum for why our system needs to maintain itself,” he said.

“We need to have a principled bottom line on some of these issues, particularly when we’re dealing with our mainland counterparts. It can’t just be a matter of politicking.”

On a questionnaire sent to all nine candidates, four solicitors – Daly, Louise Wong, Roden Tong and Simon Lai – said they agreed the Law Society should have a published policy to respond to rule of law issues in a timely manner.

Voting system under scrutiny

On May 30, solicitors can attend the annual general meeting of the Law Society and vote for candidates in person. However, the professional body also offers two other voting methods: by post or by proxy.

Junius Ho. Photo: LegCo.

Critics have argued that the proxy vote arrangement allows bosses to exert pressure on younger lawyers, by asking them to hand over their votes. Pro-Bejing lawmaker Junius Ho – who is also a solicitor by trade – once said that such a phenomenon was widespread since the 1990s, and that the pressure was “legitimate.”

Proxy votes played a major role in last year’s race, with conservative candidates effectively using them to turn the tide. The best-performing candidate last year, Pierre Chan, received 390 votes by post, 123 votes in person and 1,484 votes by proxy.

The situation was reversed for non-establishment candidates, who received the bulk of their votes by post or in person, but suffered from a relative lack of proxy votes.

Daly told HKFP that proxy votes were “a bit of a problem,” though he said he had no definite solution.

“The proxy votes seemed to be very well organised and won out the day [last year],” he said. “I don’t know all the problems with it, I don’t see it, but you hear stories about people putting pressure on people to get their proxy votes.”

Hong Kong Law Society President Melissa Pang. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Every year, the Law Society retires the five most senior members in its 20-strong Council, and asks Hong Kong’s solicitors to vote to fill those spots. However, the position of President is chosen separately, and the election process is only open to Council members.

Melissa Pang became the first-ever woman to lead the Law Society last year. The next president will be determined in June after new Council members take office.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.