Hong Kong government officials, including a former justice secretary, have said the special administrative region remains ‘fiercely independent’, despite concerns about growing influence from Beijing.
Dennis Kwok, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council representing the legal constituency, said the 'one country two' systems' model on which Hong Kong has run since 1997 remains ‘perfectly intact’.
‘The legal profession is fiercely independent as is our judiciary,’ Kwok said. His views were echoed by former justice secretary Rimsky Yuen who said there is ‘no force’ to the argument that Hong Kong's jurisdiction is ‘part of China’.
Kwok and Yuen were speaking at an event hosted by international law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in which the proposed Belt and Road initiative – and the resulting disputes that may follow - was discussed. Yuen said the fact that those entering arbitration can choose their arbiter, and the fact that Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has a number of sitting foreign judges should put to bed any speculation from disputing parties that the region is too closely aligned with the mainland.
The comments come against a backdrop of uncertainty. Earlier this year, some Hong Kong judges anonymously expressed concern over influence from the mainland.
It was also revealed last week that the Hong Kong law society is consulting with foreign firms over changes that would require them to prioritise hiring local lawyers over foreign qualified solicitors. The Gazette understands however that mainland lawyers would be classified as ‘foreign’ under the proposals.
Skadden partner Rory McAlpine, part of the firm’s international litigation and arbitration team, asked whether Hong Kong was seen as a ‘next best thing’ for litigating parties in a situation where one side is from the mainland and another from outside. The implication being that the opposing party would be uncomfortable about a dispute being held on the mainland so Hong Kong is settled on as a compromise.
At the moment the majority of disputing parties are Chinese nationals.
Sarah Grimmer, secretary general at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKAIC), said Hong Kong has always been a connecting jurisdiction but that the HKAIC was hearing more and more international disputes.