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Professionals becoming more vocal in upholding core values and democracy

By Julian Ng & Zoe Lai

On August 14 last year, the Law Society of Hong Kong passed a historic motion of no confidence in its president. “We have witnessed one of the most unexpected results in the history of Hong Kong professional bodies,” said Kevin Yam Kin-fung, the 38-year-old solicitor who moved the motion. With tears in his eyes, Yam thanked the society’s members for supporting it.

The unprecedented move came after Beijing issued a white paper on the “one country, two systems” policy in Hong Kong on June 10, 2014. The paper referred to judicial personnel as “administrators”, and said they had to “love the country”. Many lawyers considered this a threat to judicial independence, but Ambrose Lam San-keung, the pro-establishment president of the Law Society, publicly supported the paper. He further drew the ire of some lawyers by calling the Chinese Communist Party “great” in a radio interview.

Eventually, the no-confidence motion was passed with 2,392 votes in favour, and 1,478 votes against. Lam resigned a few days later.

Traditionally, Hong Kong’s professionals, including solicitors, have been seen as not particularly active in politics. With stable jobs and incomes, they tend to support the status quo. But in recent years, more professionals like Yam, have been willing to speak out to safeguard core values and promote democracy.

Yam says the white paper triggered the awakening of legal practitioners, including him. Up till its publication, he was, he says, a June 4 and July 1 democrat, meaning his activities were limited to participation in the annual vigil and protest.

Still, he tabled the no-confidence motion with the encouragement from like-minded solicitors. Originally, he thought it would fail because many veteran solicitors supported Lam. What he had not bargained for was that mainland-backed institutions and the Central Liaison Office would interfere by lobbying solicitors to vote against the motion.

“Once the country’s machinery tried to pressure them, [the solicitors] felt that the profession’s independence was under threat,” Yam says. He thinks this may have prompted more solicitors to support his motion.

Kevin Yam Kin-fung launches the Progessive Lawyers Group with other lawyers Photo courtesy of Kevin Yam
Kevin Yam Kin-fung launches the Progessive Lawyers Group with other lawyers
Photo courtesy of Kevin Yam

For Yam, it proved to be just the beginning. On January 27 this year, he announced the launch of the Progressive Lawyers Group to provide a platform for young lawyers to comment on social issues and promote core values, including judicial independence and democracy, in the community. The group now has around 50 members.

At the group’s inaugural press conference, he emphasised it did not intend to challenge the Hong Kong Bar Association and Law Society.