2nd July, 2013

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The Legislative Council session of 2012/2013 is drawing to a close on 23 July. Time flew. Before we break for the summer, I would like to give you another round of update on the latest political and legislative developments since my last report to you in April 2013. If you have missed any of my previous reports and e-newsletters to the legal profession, you could revisit them by going to my FB page or my personal webpage.

– On 4 March 2013, I wrote to the Securities and Futures Commission and the LegCo Panel on Financial Affairs (of which I am a member) to ask them to follow up on the Apex Horizon hotel units sold by Cheung Kong. Having studied the underlying documents and consulted my friends in the financial regulatory field, I believe it constituted a collective investment scheme as defined under the Securities and Future Ordinance (Cap. 571) which required prior regulatory approval by the SFC. On 13 May 2013, the SFC announced that an agreement was reached between the Commission and Cheung Kong to unwind the entire selling scheme and that all buyers are to be put back to their previous positions before the sale. I have continued to follow up on this matter to ensure that all affected buyers are fully compensated for their losses.

– In April 2013, I first raised the questions concerning the conduct of the former ICAC Commissioner Timothy Tong at the Finance Committee in LegCo. The conduct in question involved his expenses over gifts and entertainment activities during his tenure. The more we asked, the more problems were revealed. ICAC is the defender of our core values in Hong Kong. Hong Kong must stay corruption free. This means its chief must behave in an appropriate manner, and his actions must be beyond reproach. On 8 May 2013, I invoked the LegCo procedure of petition to ask the Council to set up a select committee to investigate the matter. The petition procedure is an ancient rite whereby important public concerns were brought before Parliament for investigation. It requires 20 Legislative Councillors to physically stand in support of the petition to set up a select committee. This was the first time since the Handover that this procedure was invoked. The investigation on several fronts is ongoing. I shall further report to you once the select committee begins its work in the new legislative session.

Independent Legal Aid Authority and Legal Aid Review. The Legal Aid Services Council issued its consultancy report in March 2013 recommending against the setting up of an independent legal aid body. This is a surprising U-turn from its 1998 and 2003 reports where independence was recommended by the consultants back then. The need for independence in terms of both operation and perception is overwhelming. At the Legislative Council Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services Panel (AJLS) meeting on 25 June, the legal profession and almost all political parties across the board pressed the Administration on this. The issue of independence is long overdue. Any halfway measure is simply not good enough. The Administration promised to look into the matter and at the same time to review the coverability of the legal aid and supplemental legal aid schemes, and also to review the level of criminal legal aid fees within 2013. I shall continue to press the Administration on these matters.

– Party and party taxation. The party to party rates were last reviewed by the Judiciary in 1997. It is clear that another review is long overdue in order to better reflect the current market conditions of the legal profession, so that a successful party in litigation could be placed in a better position when it comes to recovery of legal costs incurred. The Judiciary is looking into the matter, and in any event, the AJLS Panel in LegCo will discuss this matter in the 4th quarter of 2013 once the Judiciary has given its response.

– Expansion of work opportunities in Taiwan and South Korea for the Legal Profession. In May 2013, I visited Seoul to attend the Opening Ceremony of their International Dispute Resolution Centre of which the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre is a participating organisation. I represented the HK legal profession and met with many of our professional colleagues from South Korea and the Asia-pacific region. This is an important development opportunity for HK, especially in terms of our international arbitration practice and the furtherance of Hong Kong’s status as an international dispute resolution hub. There is much room for collaboration. I have urged the Administration to step up their financial assistance given to the promotion of HK’s legal system and our legal professional abilities. We are much behind other jurisdictions such as Singapore in the promotion of our legal services. We need to seriously step up our efforts on this front.

There have been some concerns about the HK legal profession’s official status in Taiwan. Right now we are not formally recognised by the Taiwanese authorities under any form. This has always been a hindrance to the development of the HK legal profession across the Straits. I have met with Taiwanese officials to discuss this matter, and a high powered Taiwanese delegation is due to come visit HK in September 2013 which would be another opportunity for the legal profession and I to follow up on this.

I wish you all a wonderful summer break! Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions about my work in LegCo or if you have any issues of concerns.

Kind regards,
Dennis Kwok

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