12 November 2020

Hong Kong's representative for legal profession disqualified from Legislative Council

Dennis Kwok (second from left) at a press conference with the other disqualified law makers

Dennis Kwok (second from left) at a press conference with the other disqualified law makers

Ejection of barrister Dennis Kwok and three other high profile law makers sparks resignation of pro-democracy caucus

Barrister Dennis Kwok, who represented legal services in Hong Kong’s legislature, has been disqualified from office.  

Kwok, a member of the Civic Party, had already been barred by Hong Kong’s government from contesting 2020’s postponed elections. He had been expected to see out his term until September 2021, but was disqualified from office following a ruling by China’s National People’s Congress.

The ruling allowed Hong Kong government officials to expel him, and three other law-makers, from the Legislative Council (LegCo), without recourse to the courts. Also disqualified were Civic Party leader and fellow barrister, Alvin Yeung, urologist, Kwok Ka-ki, as well as Kenneth Leung, a senior consultant at UK law firm Lewis Silkin, who represented accountants on LegCo.

Kwok and Leung had previously signed a letter to US legislators supporting the imposition of sanctions against Special Administrative Region (SAR) leaders, including chief executive Carrie Lam, while the remaining lawmakers were accused of supporting sanctions. 

Local authorities said the four were dismissed as a consequence of being banned for re-election, the earlier decision having been taken on the grounds their pledge of allegiance to the SAR was insincere. 

Lam told the media: “We could not allow members of a Legislative Council who have been judged in accordance with the law that they could not fulfil the requirement and the prerequisite for serving on the Legislative Council to continue to operate.” 

The decision was endorsed by China’s local liaison office; however, in response, the majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition legislators announced a mass resignation in support of the four lawmakers. 

UK Foreign Secretary, and former Linklaters solicitor, Dominic Raab, said the imposition of the new rules constituted a clear breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration, under which the former British colony reverted to China in 1997.  

Raab added: "China has once again broken its promises and undermined Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy."

Kwok, a barrister at Prince’s Chambers, and an alumnus of Herbert Smith Freehills, was twice re-elected to LegCo, in 2012 and 2016, by comfortable majorities, beating pro-establishment candidates both times. A moderate, his work for lawyers ranged from supporting reforms to international arbitration, seeking greater resourcing for Hong Kong’s justice system, fair briefing of barristers, and greater access to justice, as well as serving on the Competition Commission. 

Kwok’s own work as a legislator saw him act as deputy chairman of LegCo’s House Committee, where a lengthy filibuster marked him out for criticism by Chinese officials and pro-establishment figures alike. While disqualification was not unexpected – his final report as a legislator acknowledged as much – Kwok said the move was “clearly in breach of the Basic Law and our rights to participate in public affairs, and a failure to observe due process".

He told supporters: “It has been my pleasure and honour to serve as the LegCo representative for the legal profession in the past eight years,” adding he believed lawyers would “continue to uphold core values and principles going forward, a tradition which I have tried to the best of my ability to uphold. Long may this tradition continue.”

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