A Hong Kong legal scholar accused of breaches of confidentiality has applied to legally challenge the Law Society’s decision to submit two complaints about him to a group that deals with the conduct of solicitors.

Eric Cheung, a principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), filed the application for leave to apply for judicial review to the High Court last week. The scholar said the Law Society’s decision to submit its complaints to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal Panel was “illegal” and “procedurally irregular” because it had bypassed proper channels.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming
Eric Cheung Tat-ming. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Law Society’s decision also went against Cheung’s “legitimate expectation” that the solicitors group should act according to its public law duty, Cheung wrote in the application.

Judicial reviews are considered by the Court of First Instance and examine the decision-making processes of administrative bodies. Issues under review must be shown to affect the wider public interest.

Cheung asked the court to quash the decision and order related disciplinary tribunal proceedings to be paused “pending” the result of Cheung’s application for a judicial review.

Cheung said in his application that he had reasons to believe that the two complaints were filed without going through the Investigation Committee and the Standing Committee on Compliance as policy stated they must.

The scholar also said that he had yet to receive documents including Council minutes “despite repeated requests.”

Alleged confidentiality breaches

The HKU scholar was accused of breaching confidentiality on two occasions in 2020, and the Council of the Law Society eventually submitted two complaints to the Tribunal Convenor of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal Panel.

High Court
The High Court. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The first incident took place in March 2020, when, according to the Law Society, Cheung showed part of a letter from the society’s president to then-legislative councillor Dennis Kwok three days before the letter was scheduled to be sent to Law Society members on March 30.

The council later passed a vote of no confidence in Cheung. The group also referred the incident to the Conduct Section for investigation.

Then, in May, Cheung revealed that a statement issued about a misunderstanding surrounding then Law Society president Melissa Pang on behalf of “all members” of the council was in fact passed by “the majority.” How members had voted on the matter was supposed to remain confidential.

Law Society of Hong Kong
Law Society of Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

An independent panel was then formed by the society to investigate the matter, which ruled in July that year that Cheung breached his duty of confidence.

The two matters were then referred to the disciplinary tribunal panel.

The Law Society said in a statement published on Monday night that it would not comment on individual cases.

It also said that if the Law Society had reason to believe that any lawyers violated relevant policies, the society would conduct investigations in accordance to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance, and treat each case “fairly, impartially, and carefully,” regardless of the status or background of the member in question.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.