SOLICITORS who acquire full rights of audience in Hong Kong should be eligible for appointment as Queen's Counsel, a new consultation paper says.
The green paper, released by the Hong Kong Attorney General earlier this month, suggests solicitors in the colony may be entitled to gain rights of audience in all courts under statutory provisions similar to those in England and Scotland.
And it says those who do should be allowed to apply for appointment as Queen's Counsel - a title set to be renamed following the exchange of sovereignty in 1997.
The green paper throws the gate open for "public reappraisal", saying the issues involved in assessing Hong Kong's legal system are "too important to be left to lawyers to decide by themselves".
The Hong Kong Law Society has already formed a working party to consider the paper, and secretary general Patrick Moss says a formal opinion is set to be released in June.
He says initial reaction to the QC proposal shows it is "long overdue". However, solicitors in Hong Kong have not yet been granted rights of audience, and this is also to be considered.
"It's something which we are very much in favour of," says Moss. "I think we would also take the view that there should be a test of some sort for every advocate in the High Court, not just one restricted to solicitors."
UK solicitor advocates, officially in existence since 1994, are currently pressing for the right to be awarded silk.
The Law Society's director of communications Walter Merricks says: "If the whole purpose is giving clients a wider choice of advocates then there can be no question of solicitors only being allowed to be second-class advocates."
"If there is going to be a separate identification of advocacy leaders who have distinct advantages in terms of payment and status, then it's obviously important that those who are well-qualified as solicitors as well as barristers should be eligible to apply for it."