"Hong Kong urged to catch up with regional neighbours and remove obstacles to lawyers providing free legal advice"South China Morning Post
5 January 2019
Hong Kong authorities have been urged to catch up with regional competitors in encouraging free legal advice by investing public money and setting up service platforms, according to local and Australian legal experts.
They said Australia and Singapore have launched reforms to give NGOs, and ordinary citizens, greater access to legal services needed for their daily lives, such as settling disputes with landlords and employers, or even with the police.
To provide legal advice in Hong Kong, voluntary or not, qualified lawyers must first get their law firms to buy professional indemnity insurance for them, in case their clients sue them for making a wrong call in the legal process.
In Hong Kong, lawyers can only be insured collectively as part of a law firm. This means that lawyers cannot provide legal advice to NGOs or underprivileged people, unless they get permission and financial support from their employers.
Principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, who runs one of the city’s few clinics providing free legal advice, has his volunteer lawyers insured by the publicly funded Duty Lawyers Service scheme.
Cheung believes the Hong Kong government should either consider revising local laws on professional indemnity, or bulk purchase of insurance for pro bono lawyers.
“For each year, it may involve a few hundred thousand dollars, but it could help many lawyers provide free legal services. The government could absolutely afford it.”
Cheung, who also served on the governing council of the Law Society, said that without revising the law, the existing legal framework was not conducive to pro bono work. He said many lawyers offering free legal advice – including those under the government’s duty lawyer scheme to give legal advice at district offices – run the risk of violating the professional code, which requires lawyers to be covered by professional indemnity.
“This is a genuine ticking time bomb, because it’s a compulsory requirement,” he said. Click here to read the full text.