A council member of the Law Society of Hong Kong has announced that he will withdraw from the solicitors group’s election this coming Tuesday, citing safety fears.

Jonathan Ross (centre bottom). Photo: Law Society of Hong Kong.

“For my safety, and the safety of my family, I am announcing my intention to withdraw my name as a candidate for re-election to the Council of the Law Society of Hong Kong,” Jonathan Ross said in a statement.

Tuesday’s election for the professional association will see five new council members elected to replace some of its longest-standing members. The race is seen as a watershed moment as currently the “liberal camp” occupies seven out of 20 seats on the council. If the camp wins all five seats, they will gain a majority in the body that counts over 12,000 solicitors amongst its membership.

Law Society of Hong Kong. Photo: inmediahk.net CC by 2.0.

Ross urged all members of the Law Society to attend and vote in Tuesday’s Annual General meeting “for the candidates of their choice in a free and open election.”

“It is a shameful and sad day for Hong Kong that an election for Council of our honorable institution has sunk to this level,” he said.

Last week, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned the Law Society against “hijacking” the legal profession with politics, days after several pro-democracy civil society groups folded under pressure from the authorities.

Jonathan Ross (second right). Photo: Law Society of Hong Kong.

Lam said that, if it were to become politicised, the government may sever ties with the regulatory body that is empowered to grant solicitors registration to practice. It can also enact disciplinary action against solicitors and firms.

Following Ross’s decision, President of the Law Society Melissa Pang said in a statement that the group has filed a report with the police regarding the threats he allegedly received and has advised the candidate to do the same.

‘Politicised’

In response to Lam’s comments on Tuesday, the Law Society said they will continue to remain politically neutral.

But in the subsequent days, state-owned media outlets – including the Wen Wei Po – stepped up their attacks on liberal candidates running in the race. The newspaper accused candidates of being “pro-independence” or supporting “mutual destruction” over some of their criticism of the police crackdown during the 2019 protests and unrest and the disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File Photo: GovHK.

An editorial published in the Wen Wei Po on Saturday took aim at Ross and another council member Kenneth Lam. “The Law Society must purge itself of black sheep,” the article’s title read.

On Friday, a pro-Beijing group – Politihk Social Strategic – staged a small protest urging the Law Society to investigate Ross over a 2018 incident where he discussed a court case his firm was involved in as a plaintiff with a Chinese Supreme Court judge.

But Ross denied his withdrawal on Saturday was related to the allegations, saying that following complaints over the matter in 2019, no misconduct was determined to have taken place and the conversation was ruled “totally appropriate.”

Selma Masood, another candidate on the liberal camp, said in a statement posted to Facebook on Saturday that she “[respects] Ross’ decision and [wishes] him well.”

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.