January 13, 2019
The head of Hong Kong’s professional body of lawyers has vowed to continue engaging with their mainland Chinese counterparts, despite warning signs that such efforts may not be entirely welcome.
Chairman of the city’s Bar Association Philip Dykes said that he hopes to raise the city’s legal profile internationally, as well as foster “better understanding” between local and mainland lawyers.
“We are not trying to proselytise,” he told HKFP in an interview. “We are two completely different systems… We are just trying to understand what the differences are, so as to better understand one another.”
However, questions remain about whether the body – which some say has grown more critical of the government under Dykes’s leadership – has soured its relationship with Beijing.
Dykes had previously said he had no problem getting along with China. That statement may soon be put to the test: by tradition, Hong Kong’s barristers are invited to visit Beijing every year, or every other year.
No such invitation was extended in 2018, and it remains to be seen if either side will make overtures.
‘Not conducive to confidence’
Over the past year, the Bar Association has issued statements against the joint checkpoint at the high-speed rail terminus, screening of election candidates, personal attacks against judges, the expulsion of Victor Mallet, and the Chinese government’s treatment of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang.
“The Bar Association will not be silent on a major issue just for fear that it antagonises someone,” Dykes said.
Tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing lawyers came to a head in August, after Peking University stopped two barristers from teaching a course on common law. Dykes was also disinvited from the course’s graduation ceremony in Beijing.