Opinion | Policy Address's legal initiatives benefit partners and promote HK
By Grenville Cross
On Oct 25, when the Hong Kong chief executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, delivered his Policy Address, he announced three initiatives of particular significance for the legal world.
The first involved creating a specialist team tasked with establishing the Hong Kong International Legal Talents Training Academy.
The second concerned the development of the Centre for International Legal and Dispute Resolution Services in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The third envisaged the establishment of the Hong Kong International Academy Against Corruption.
Since the Policy Address, flesh has been placed on the bare bones, and the impact of the proposals on the overall scheme of things is now clearer.
On Nov 5, at the start of Hong Kong Legal Week 2023, the secretary for justice, Paul Lam Ting-kwok, explained that, to enhance the city's status as a regional hub for capacity building, a dedicated office will be responsible next year for establishing the Hong Kong International Legal Talents Training Academy.
By leveraging Hong Kong's global status and bilingual common law system, the academy will perform an educative function. It will be responsible not only for arranging practical training courses and seminars, but also for formulating international exchange programs. Those exchanges will foster contacts with judges, legal professionals and government officials in the Asia-Pacific region, and beyond.
In the process, the academy will undoubtedly promote a greater understanding of Hong Kong's common law system, which is timely. After all, although the common law is constitutionally underpinned by the Basic Law (Art.8), which provides for the previous capitalist system and way of life to "remain unchanged for 50 years" (Art.5), its continuation thereafter has now been confirmed.
In 2022, amid speculation over the city's post-2047 arrangements, President Xi Jinping announced that the central government "fully supports Hong Kong … in retaining its common law system". Therefore, anything the academy can do to advance an appreciation of how the common law can benefit the city in the longer term is welcome. It will enlighten not only local people but also overseas partners, which will strengthen overall confidence in the legal system.
At the 5th United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Asia Pacific Judicial Summit, which marked the launch of Legal Week, Lam reaffirmed Hong Kong's commitment to facilitating cross-border legal and dispute resolution cooperation. This included knowledge sharing, based on the city's unique positioning as a bridge between the Chinese mainland and the world. Lam pointed out how, under the "one country, two systems" principle, Hong Kong benefits not only from direct access to the markets elsewhere in China, but also from global connectivity.
Indeed, Hong Kong has a constructive role to play in supporting international dispute resolution, as evidenced by the creation of the International Organization for Mediation Preparatory Office, headed by Sun Jin, in February. With the support of the central government, it will, from its Hong Kong base, become the world's first intergovernmental organization committed to providing mediation services for resolving international disputes, primarily related to Belt and Road projects. Sun said it will open by 2025, and it will complement the current dispute resolution bodies, thereby contributing to harmonious and peaceful international relations (an objective of the UN Charter).
This initiative, endorsed by both the central government and the countries that signed the Joint Statement on the Future Establishment of the International Organization for Mediation, was a vivid demonstration of the confidence placed by the parties in Hong Kong as a leading center for legal and dispute resolution services. The role of Lam's department, therefore, given the importance of legal input of the highest quality, will be pivotal in the preparatory stages of the project, and thereafter.
Indeed, when the acting commissioner of the Office of the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, Li Yongsheng, addressed Legal Week, he stressed how, with Beijing's support, "Hong Kong will be able to further leverage its unique position and strength and make a bigger contribution to the integration and development of the law of international trade."
Since, moreover, Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was established in 1974, it has been a trailblazer. Its techniques are not only admired internationally, but often emulated. It has much to contribute to global anti-corruption efforts, and the announcement that the ICAC plans to create the Hong Kong International Academy Against Corruption in the first quarter of 2024 will also be widely welcomed.
Anti-corruption agencies worldwide follow the progress of the ICAC closely, and sometimes seek to recruit retired officers as their advisers and trainers. They will undoubtedly wish to take full advantage of the new academy, although the competition for course places will likely be keen.
The academy will have various functions, including professional training for the public and private sectors and graft fighters from elsewhere. It will also encourage the exchange of anti-corruption experiences among local, mainland and overseas experts, and this will undoubtedly strengthen the city's integrity building credentials. The academy will also conduct corruption-related research, using its own personnel and external experts.
In developing the academy, the ICAC can build upon its existing global network. In October, for example, it held a weeklong program for anti-corruption personnel from South Africa, Mali, Nigeria, Thailand, Mongolia and Pakistan, and exercises of this type always generate goodwill. The visitors were also taken to Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Zhongshan, where they saw how major infrastructure sites were operated, and the whole experience will have been enlightening.
On Nov 11, the ICAC commissioner, Danny Woo Ying-ming, said he intended to conduct "tactical exchanges" on cross-border law enforcement and anti-corruption endeavors with the commission's counterparts in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and the academy will have an important supporting role to play in his planning.
Indeed, Woo also pointed out how the academy's approach can feed directly into President Xi's call, at the Belt and Road Forum last month, for more "clean cooperation" among participating nations to enhance transparency.
Woo explained how the ICAC already has in place "anti-corruption training and research for Belt and Road countries", adding that its "next step is to play our part in national development in these aspects."
In their own way, each of these initiatives can not only enhance Hong Kong's reputation for legal excellence, but also promote its global stature. As a major player in the Asia-Pacific region, it is only right that the city should be honing its skills and reaching out to its counterparts elsewhere. Once the various plans have been brought to fruition, everybody will be able to see that Hong Kong is more than capable of punching above its weight, a key governmental objective.
The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The article was first published in China Daily.