Hong Kong rumour mill starts to spin as Chief Justice stands for Patten's job

Hong Kong's chief justice, Sir Ti Liang Yang, has put himself forward as a candidate to take over as Chief Executive of Hong Kong from Chris Patten when UK rule ends next July. The move will probably scupper the chances of solicitor Tak-shing Lo, whose firm has a joint venture with Stephenson Harwood in the Far East.

Yang is expected to resign his post as Lord Chief Justice, and Hong Kong's legal profession is now speculating as to who will replace him.

The three men tipped as contenders are all Appeal Judges: Justin Lui, Charles Ching and Henry Lytton.

Both Ching and Lytton were prominent Hong Kong silks, promoted to the Court of Appeal last year.

Yang, Hong Kong's first Chinese Chief Justice, appointed in 1988, studied in London and has been a judge for 30 years.

He ran into controversy a few months ago when a Chinese official repeated to the press remarks he had made at a dinner party, to the effect that the UK Bill of Rights ordinance was illegal. Hong Kong's lawyers immediately demanded his resignation and he had to explain his remarks to the Chief Secretary Anson Chan.

Chan is also seen as a candidate for Chief Executive but is unlikely to win Chinese approval since she is an appointee of the British.

Tak-shing Lo, the senior partner of Lo & Lo, which is in a joint venture with Stephenson Harwood in Hong Kong, is also seeking the post. Lo runs a pro-Chinese newspaper in the colony and a few months ago courted controversy by giving up his UK passport for a Beijing one.

One Hong Kong lawyer said: “He is very unpopular here. Everyone wondered how he managed to get a Beijing passport when no one else in Hong Kong can, even if they wanted one.”

Richard Morris, vice-president of the Hong Kong Law Society said: “Now Yang has stepped forward, Lo's is being pushed even further into the background. Lo might be forced to stand down in favour of Yang.”

The contender regarded as most likely to win the post is shipping magnate Chee-hwa Tung, respected by the Chinese authorities, but he has not yet announced his candidature.