Last month, the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of Ma Ka-kin, with the judges criticising the prosecution for what they described as “manifest injustice”. It was revealed that Ma had received legal advice from a law firm clerk who had a criminal record.
Responding to the incident on Friday, the Law Society said no solicitor is allowed to hire anyone convicted of a dishonesty offence without its written permission under the Legal Practitioners Ordinance.
The society also said law firms in Hong Kong currently hire around 16,000 staff who are not qualified lawyers, and that it does not have access to all their criminal records.
Vice-chairman Brian Gilchrist said law firms themselves should act as the first gatekeeper, asking potential hires if they have a criminal record. He admitted the system is not foolproof.
“[T]he difficulty arises where a candidate deliberately hides the fact of his criminal convictions from the employer law firm, or where the law firm deliberately omits to ask for such information from the candidate, using lack of knowledge as a defence… The Law Society is actively reviewing the provision to examine how to improve it,” he said.
Another vice-chairman of the society, Amirali Nasir, said law clerks are not allowed to pay legal visits to detainees on their own.
“To conduct a legal visit, the person must be an ‘authorised clerk’, one who has been approved by the Law Society to have this status. Even for an authorised clerk, not all legal visits can be conducted by him on his own. In some situations, even an authorised clerk has to be accompanied by a solicitor when attending a legal visit.”