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HongKong> Opinion> Content
Monday, October 21, 2019, 20:08
Professional responsibility more important than ever
By Ho Lok-sang
Monday, October 21, 2019, 20:08 By Ho Lok-sang

Hong Kong has long enjoyed a strong reputation as an international city and a magnet for professionals. The Law Society of Hong Kong reported having 9,447 lawyers (with a practicing certificate) as of January 2018, while the Hong Kong Bar Association website says there are about 1,500 barristers practicing in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants alone has 44,636 fully qualified members. Hong Kong has 6,572 chartered financial analysts (as of Dec 31, 2018) out of the global total of 154,000 members in the CFA Institute among 165 plus countries and territories. 

In order to live up to its international reputation, Hong Kong has to demonstrate to the world its commitment to professional ethics and professional responsibility.  

One of the key tenets of professional ethics is that a professional has to act professionally as a member of his or her profession at all times, and that means that journalists have to report the facts truthfully and must not allow their political inclinations affect their work as journalists. Even though some unethical behavior may still be lawful, professional journalists should perform their duties to the best of their ability “without fear or favor”. Similarly, professional doctors and nurses should render their best services to patients under their care, without discrimination based on the background of the patients. There have been reports that wounded policemen were not able to get the care and the respect from some medical professionals. The authorities need to look into these complaints, and if and when someone has been proved not having performed professionally, that someone needs to be reprimanded and/or punished.  

But the violence aside, I am disappointed that both the Law Society and the Hong Kong Bar Association failed to point out the deviation of the protesters’ “five strong demands” from the rule of law. The reticence on the part of our two professional bodies representing the legal profession is misleading the public that the five demands are reasonable

Of course, this logic carries over to police officers themselves. Police officers need to perform professionally at all times, and should not deviate from established standards and procedures. If one has any complaint against any individual police officer, one has to file the complaint officially, so that the complaint can be handled according to the established standards and procedures.

The public has to understand and accept that it is quite likely that in any profession there are “bad apples”. Branding the police force as “black police” is as absurd as branding all demonstrators as “rioters”.  We all need to be fair, and try to hold individuals responsible for their behavior without implicating others in the profession. Branding the entire police force as a “dark force” could be a political and psychological tactic to demoralize the police, which could give the protesters more sway in asserting their demands. But all professional bodies need to act ethically and responsibly; they should refuse to go along with this “broad-brush” approach to incriminate either the entire police force or all the protesters. 

Talking about professional responsibility, I would like to point out my disappointment in the reticence of the two legal professional bodies in Hong Kong. 

On Oct 9, Edwin Choy Wai-bond resigned as the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association over its failure to condemn protesters’ violent acts during the ongoing anti-government demonstrations. Commenting on the recent protests, he said while he appreciated the steadfastness of many young people in holding on to their political ideals, many others “have been stirred into abandoning reason and replacing it with barbarism”, with their peaceful demeanor morphing into destructive conduct “far beyond the set boundaries laid down by the law”. “As it became increasingly apparent to me that a substantial majority of my colleagues on the Bar Council remained highly reticent to state, with unequivocal clarity, that both the rioters and those who proffer excuses on their behalf should be condemned, I was convinced that my outlook diverged too much from (that of) the council for me to remain among its ranks,” he explained.

But the violence aside, I am disappointed that both the Law Society and the Hong Kong Bar Association failed to point out the deviation of the protesters’ “five strong demands” from the rule of law. The reticence on the part of our two professional bodies representing the legal profession is misleading the public that the five demands are reasonable.  

These professional bodies should make it very clear that “genuine universal suffrage” still has to follow the terms stated by the Basic Law, which has gone into effect on July 1, 1997. Reneging on that at this time is both a sign of bad faith and a deviation from the rule of law.

They should make it clear that each rioter will have to be held accountable for the crime that he or she has committed, as determined by the courts based on evidence and legal principles. It is not the prerogative of the special administrative region government to intervene. The city has been suffering from rioters’ wanton destruction of public and private property with gasoline bombs, metal bars; people that the protesters disagree with as well as police officers have been beaten up, some severely and even critically; traffic has been held up for extended hours; and our MTR services have been disrupted. No one is in the position to “withdraw the riot label” and absolve rioters from their responsibility for such crimes.

Will the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Bar Association please stand up?


The author is a senior research fellow, Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, at Lingnan University.


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