Hong Kong still ‘very attractive’ to legal talent, justice secretary says, with department to roll out Greater Bay Area action plan

The bay area – a national development plan marking its fifth anniversary this year – aims to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities into China’s new economic powerhouse.

The Department of Justice’s action plan will be unveiled on Friday. Photo: Dickson Lee

Under the action plan, the department will seek to establish a pool of bay area-based foreign-related legal talent with a global vision by establishing the Hong Kong International Legal Talents Training Academy, an initiative first mentioned in Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s policy address last year.

A dedicated office and expert group would be set up within this year as scheduled, paving the way for the academy’s establishment, Lam said, without giving the exact time for its opening.

“I’m very confident that Hong Kong remains a very attractive place for capacity building,” Lam said when asked in an interview whether foreign sanctions targeting local judges and legal practitioners would adversely affect efforts to lure outside talent for training.

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The justice secretary attributed the attractiveness to the city’s large pool of legal talent, who excelled in handling international issues.

He also said demand for training from both mainland China and foreign countries was “huge and very imminent”.

“Our experience is that a lot of developing countries and other countries, say in Southeast Asia, Africa and other parts of the world, are also very interested to take part in capacity building programmes in Hong Kong,” Lam said.

But he conceded there was an “unfortunate” reality that Hong Kong had to confront when it came to the overall perception of the city.

“Whether due to the pandemic or certain geopolitical factors, there may be individuals elsewhere who are hesitant to come to Hong Kong, influenced to some extent by misconceptions about the city,” Lam said.

“This can create a sense of reluctance or hesitation among them.”

In November, a group of US legislators proposed the Hong Kong Sanctions Act targeting 49 city officials, judges and prosecutors, including Lam and Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, to expand the list of people penalised over the Beijing-imposed national security law.

If passed, the legislation would mandate the US president to decide within 180 days whether to impose sanctions in accordance with existing laws such as the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 and the Hong Kong Autonomy Act.

Some US politicians also renewed calls for sanctions against Hong Kong officials after the domestic national security law, which outlaws five new types of offences, was passed last month.

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Lam said he hoped that through more frequent exchanges and even by inviting more people to visit, those outside Hong Kong would be helped to make an accurate judgment of the city and the abundant opportunities available.

“I believe that a person who possesses both capability and vision will be more than willing to come to Hong Kong,” the justice minister said.

Ares Lee Ming-rui, director of research at the China Legal Service and who joined the media interview session on Thursday, echoed Lam’s optimism over the city’s role as a legal hub.

Lee noted that 80,000 lawyers had been practising in Guangdong province, but only 316 were recognised by the country to handle foreign-related legal matters as of last December.

In addition to nurturing talent, the action plan aims to build an information platform related to bay area legal and dispute resolution services.

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Under the action plan, a “high-level, regular and institutionalised official channel” between the justice department and Supreme People’s Court is also expected to be finalised to take forward research and practical work on bay area-related judicial and legal matters.

Hong Kong-invested enterprises registered in Qianhai – a pilot economic zone in Shenzhen – are allowed to adopt Hong Kong law as the applicable law, even in the absence of “foreign-related elements” in contracts.

In terms of aligning regulations among the different jurisdictions within the region, the action plan requires the department to expand the scope of the measures to various bay area cities.


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