Opening of the Legal Year in Hong Kong

The Opening of the Legal Year  organized each January is a very long tradition of   Hong Kong Law Society In the past it always was a huge ceremony gathering judicial and governmental officials, representatives of legal profession as well as distinguished guests from  abroad. This year, due to well-known circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, celebration had hybrid form. On January 11, 2021 main ceremony took place. In the premises of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong gathered main representatives of Judiciary and the government while the ceremony was broadcasted online on the internet. Main speech was delivered by newly appointed Chief of Justice Mr. Andrew Cheung, who defended judicial independence in context  of rising attacks on judges . Chief Justice stressed  that Independence of judiciary is crucial to maintain public confidence and Hong Kong’s  reputation as the city  governed by the rule of law under  principle ‘one country, two systems’. He also expressed his gratitude to the predecessor, Mr. Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, who served as Chief of Justice for last 10 years defending successfully independence and high position of judges in Hong Kong. During the ceremony, speeches were delivered also by Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah,  Chairman of Bar Council Philip J. Dykes and  President of the Law Society Melissa Kaye Pang.

On January 12 the  Presidents’ Roundtable took place with participation of leaders of international organization of lawyers, bar associations and law societies. The main topic of this event was  Challenges and opportunities for the legal profession in the midst of COVID-19. Participants discussed the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on legal profession, how they responded to  challenges  and what long-lasting changes will influence lawyers and their professional practices in future. Speakers were presidents and high representatives of International Union of Advocates (UIA), LAWASIA, American Bar Association (ABA), German Federal Bar (BRAK), French National Bar Council (CNB), The Law Society of England and Wales, Law Council of Australia and Paris Bar. AEA-EAL President Maria Ślązak touched the issue of domestic violence, which raised dramatically in every country during lockdown and imposed restrictions. She illustrated how lawyers, law firms and bars responded to the issue and  which of introduced practices and procedures should be maintained and developed in the future as the domestic violence is still a growing issue. Further work of lawyers in this field is also our input into building sustainable society in which everybody has a right to feel safely. The intervention of our President was very well received; in their opinion the problem is not visible enough for authorities and the public and victims stay often alone, without any help.

On January 13 a Leadership Insights Session took place devoted to opportunities for Hong Kong in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Hong Kong’s role in the Greater Bay Area. In November 2020, the Chinese government signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (“RCEP”) Agreement with countries of South-East Asia, as well as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand. RCEP seeks to establish clear and mutually advantageous rules to facilitate trade and investment. On the other hand, China develops so called the Greater Bay Area – integration of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao area, where Hong Kong lawyers wish to play key role in building legal infrastructure and legal culture.

Three days of celebrations and events highlighted still relatively strong position of judges and lawyers in Hong Kong, however the shadow of long-lasting protests in the city and new  “security law” (giving the Beijing much stronger tools to control life in the  Hong Kong  Special Autonomic Region) was felt during the ceremony.