UK barristers could lose their privileged access to the courts of Hong Kong under plans unveiled by the Hong Kong government two weeks ago.
Elise Leung, Secretary of Justice, announced that foreign lawyers will have to sit an examination before they can practise as barristers in the city.
At present, barristers from the UK and some Commonwealth countries enjoy automatic recognition of their qualifications.
However, Audrey Eu, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, said it would be some time before the new rules, which require a change in the law, come into force. She said: “It is still early days. We don't know if there will be a lot of consultation or what the legislative timetable will be.”
The Bar Association set up a sub-committee earlier this year to look at the issue, and has yet to form a consensus on the best way forward. According to Eu: “There are differing views on what the new admission rules should look like. It's not easy to come up with a package of rules that will please everyone.”
A change in the rules would bring the position of barristers in line with solicitors, who became subject to a competency test as a result of changes in the Hong Kong Law Society rules some years ago.
Leung said that it was important to create a non-discriminatory admission procedure for foreign lawyers, to ensure that Hong Kong was meeting its obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt).