Hong Kong’s professional body for barristers on Wednesday dismissed allegations that it was a “political organisation” and pledged to engage in “constructive and rational dialogue” with authorities days after Beijing took aim at its new chief for his calls to amend the national security law.
The Bar Association was responding to strongly worded statements issued by Beijing’s two top agencies overseeing Hong Kong affairs last week, which had described Paul Harris, the body’s new chairman, as an “anti-Communist lawyer” who had challenged national sovereignty.
The two agencies also accused the association of being “hijacked by a minority of anti-China troublemakers”.
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Harris drew the ire of the central government for saying he would explore the possibility of getting Hong Kong authorities to “agree to some modifications” to the Beijing-decreed national security law, which he said contained provisions that were at odds with rights guaranteed under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Bar Association said it noted with concern observations expressed on its role as a result of certain views put forth by Harris in his personal capacity.
“The [Bar Association] is not a political organisation. It is a professional body established to consider all matters affecting the profession and the administration of justice, and to take such actions as it deems proper,” the statement read.
The association called itself and its chairman “inviolable supporters” of the “one country, two systems” principle, adding they would discharge duties and attain their objectives – which include upholding the rule of law, the Basic Law and the independence of the judiciary – with integrity and professionalism.
“The [Bar Association] welcomes and will endeavour to engage in constructive and rational dialogue with all organisations and authorities on matters touching upon the legal profession and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” it stated.
Last Friday, a spokesman for the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office questioned Harris’ objectives and accused him of hostility towards the Communist Party, as well as using “his British nationality to collude with foreign forces in interfering with Hong Kong affairs”.
It also said the barrister body had deviated from the role of a professional group “because it was hijacked by a minority of anti-China troublemakers”.
A spokesman for Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong also weighed in on the same day, accusing Harris of abusing his position as Bar Association chairman to mislead the public. The office urged the association to “return to its original mission of a professional body that safeguards Hong Kong’s rule of law and justice”.
Harris had earlier dismissed the attacks from Beijing as “grossly inaccurate” and denied he was a separatist. The senior counsel added he had always been a supporter of the one country, two systems principle, urging his critics not to confuse “proposing improvements to a law” with “wanting to overthrow it”.
The relationship between the Bar Association and Beijing had deteriorated rapidly over the past three years, with the city hit by a number of legal controversies, such as the now-withdrawn extradition bill and the national security law.