Hong Kong’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has demanded an explanation from a trainee solicitor regarding online comments where he told police officers and their families to die.

In a letter from the DOJ dated August 20, the trainee solicitor was told that a member of the public complained about his remarks, and he had one day to provide his comment or response.

Photo of a letter sent by the Department of Justice to a trainee solicitor.

“The complainant stated that such improper conduct was directed against the Hong Kong Police and the hate speech indiscriminately targeted at the innocent family of police officer who ought not be verbally abused,” the letter read.

The DOJ alleged that the Facebook post was made on July 28, and said the Cantonese message contained a protest slogan popular during the recent anti-extradition law protests: “the whole family of black cops will die.” It also featured “foul language and hate speech.”

The complainant has urged the DOJ to oppose the trainee from being admitted as a solicitor, the letter read – a process which was scheduled to take place on Saturday. In Hong Kong, those who hope to become solicitors typically need to work as trainees for two years.

An image of the letter was widely circulated online on Wednesday. The Department of Justice told HKFP that it would not comment on individual cases.

The Department of Justice. Photo: GovHK.

However, a spokesperson said that the Secretary for Justice “has a role in making representation in assisting the Court to come to a view whether or not an applicant is eligible for admission as a solicitor.”

The Law Society, which is the professional body representing Hong Kong solicitors, told HKFP that the letter was issued by the Department of Justice and it was “more appropriate” to direct questions at them.

‘Rare’ and ‘dangerous’

Alan Wong, a practising solicitor and member of the Progressive Lawyers Group, told HKFP that such an objection was “rare” if not unprecedented.

Solicitor Alan Wong Hok-ming.

Wong said that, under the Legal Practitioners Ordinance, the admission of a solicitor requires minimal participation from the DOJ.

“The court has a role and the Law Society has a role,” he said. “The former is concerned with whether the applicant is ‘fit and proper person,’ while the latter is concerned with whether the applicant has fulfilled the training and residence requirements.”

“The DOJ will be notified, but it is usually to check if there is a criminal record.”

Wong added that the DOJ should not have a “gatekeeper” role, and questioned whether the letter had a firm legal basis: “I don’t see which section of the [Legal Practitioners Ordinance] gives them that power… if there is one, wouldn’t they quote that in the letter?”

The incident was “dangerous” as it could create a climate of fear for trainees, Wong said, extending the practice of political filtering to the legal sector.

Opening of the Legal Year 2019. File photo: inmediahk.net.

“Trainee solicitors will feel that they can’t express their political opinion. In deciding whether to admit a solicitor, the most important factors are usually their integrity and training,” he said.

“A legal trainee’s political views should not affect whether they can get admitted.”

The case also sparked concern among pro-democracy lawmakers, with the Democratic Party’s Ted Hui and the Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok raising objections.

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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.