Hong Kong has decided not to tighten its rules governing overseas lawyers' practising rights in a move that has been praised by the Law Society of England and Wales.

The Law Society of Hong Kong has been mulling controversial amendments to foreign lawyer practising rules for the past three years. The changes would require international firms practising in the special administrative region to hire two domestic lawyers for each foreign lawyer, double the current quota.

The proposals also stipulated that lawyers from outside Hong Kong should be able to give legal advice only in cases involving the jurisdictions they are registered in rather than cases that merely involve overseas elements, as is current practice. 

Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, strongly welcomed the decision to abandon the proposals. He said: ‘We have been raising concerns about Hong Kong’s plans to restrict international law firms and lawyers since they first emerged.

‘We advised against the measures on the grounds they would have had a detrimental effect on the local legal profession, on our own members in Hong Kong and – most importantly – on the standing of Hong Kong as a leading international business and financial centre.

’The jurisdiction of Hong Kong thrives on its openness, so it is good news the proposals have been abandoned.’

Melissa Pang, Hong Kong Law Society president, said that ‘overwhelming objections’ convinced the council that there could be ‘unintended consequences that adversely affect the development of the legal profession and the legal services market in Hong Kong if such proposed amendments were made.’

Pang added: ‘The position of the [Hong Kong] Law Society on its support for Hong Kong’s open door policy has remained unchanged.’