Veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy figures Martin Lee and Margaret Ng are facing a probe by the city’s professional body for barristers, after they were found guilty of organising an unauthorised peaceful demonstration in 2019.

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) has told HKFP that the matter of Lee and Ng’s convictions was drawn to the attention of its executive committee – the Bar Council – chaired by senior counsel Paul Harris.

Martin Lee West Kowloon Magistrates Court
Martin Lee leaving the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on April 16, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The barristers’ group confirmed an investigation was underway and that the council will not disclose any details of the probe until it reaches a conclusion. The committee will decide whether to refer the case to the Barristers Disciplinary Tribunal in accordance with the Legal Practitioners Ordinance.

“The matter about the convictions of the two members have been drawn to the attention of the Bar Council which is in the course of an investigation into the matter,” the HKBA wrote in an email.

According to the provisions, the tribunal may sanction a barrister for misconduct by censuring the barrister, suspending him or her from practising for a period of time or ordering the barrister’s name to be struck off. It may also require the barrister to pay a fine.

Margaret Ng
Margaret Ng. File photo: Studio Incendo.

The HKBA added that the Code of Conduct for barristers states that “the conduct of the barristers resulting in any criminal convictions is the subject matter of the investigation.”

In response to HKFP‘s enquiries, Lee said he had “no comment,” while Ng had not responded to requests for comment by the time the article went to press.

Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, and former lawmaker Ng were among a group of seven democrats convicted earlier this month for organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019, during the early months of the anti-extradition bill protests.

The seven had pleaded not guilty, while two other co-defendants, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, admitted to their offences.

709 crackdown anniversary lawyers protest
Albert Ho. File photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Lee and Ng were jailed for 11 and 12 months respectively. Both sentences were suspended for 24 months. Another lawyer, Albert Ho, received a 12-month jail term, also suspended for 24 months.

Following the conviction and sentencing of the three lawyers, pro-Beijing figures and groups urged the HKBA and the Law Society of Hong Kong to immediately suspend the trio from practising.

Last Friday, pro-establishment group Politihk Social Strategic held a brief protest outside the High Court, where the HKBA is located, and presented a petition letter asking the the two professional bodies to “act now.”

“Convicted criminals are no longer fit for any legal professional position… [we] strongly require the HKBA and Law Society to exercise your disciplinary actions to suspend, if not permanently disqualify, the mentioned three,” the letter read.

Politihk Social Strategic Martin Lee Margaret Ng Albert Ho suspension
Photo: Politihk Social Strategic, via Facebook.

Politihk Social Strategic said it was their second written complaint to the organisations and vowed to step up actions if their demand was not addressed.

“If the ignorance remains, Hong Kong people will escalate protest against your arrogance,” the group wrote.

The Law Society told HKFP that in the event of any criminal conviction, it will review the nature of the offences and see if any rules of professional conduct have been breached. It may result in a proceeding by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal Panel.

“As all [investigations are] confidential, the Law Society will not comment on individual cases,” a spokesperson for the Law Society said.

Judiciary Court of Final Appeal
Photo: GovHK.

The society added that under the Solicitors Practising Certificate, conditions may be imposed on a solicitor’s practising certificate if he or she is charged or convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or deception. The same sanction applies when a solicitor commits an office which the Law Society’s council deemed as compromising the reputation of the profession.

The letter from Politihk Social Strategic last Friday was copied to the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Chief Justice Andrew Cheung.

In response to HKFP‘s enquiries, both the DoJ and the judiciary said they would not comment on individual cases. They cited the Legal Practitioners Ordinance and said complaints against the conduct of barristers and solicitors should be handled by the respective councils in accordance with the mentioned legislation.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.