SJ defends idea of allowing solicitors to take silk

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng on Wednesday dismissed concerns that her proposal to allow legal officers in her department to attain the title of senior counsel will blur the distinction between solicitors and barristers – adding that some of her colleagues aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.

Cheng has reportedly asked the Bar Association – the city’s professional body for barristers – for support for the change, but the idea has already drawn criticism from prominent local senior counsels.

At the moment, only barristers can be promoted to the prestigious rank of senior counsel in recognition of their ability and standing.

Cheng explained that at the Department of Justice solicitors and barristers would do similar types of work, including being sent to argue cases in court.

She said it “troubles” her that the work of some of her colleagues was going unrewarded.

“Why is it that my colleagues at the Department of Justice, who by their qualification are solicitors, but are actually doing very well and very efficiently with great eloquence and advocacy at the Court of Final Appeal, are not being recognised when they are actually even better than their counterparts?” she asked after attending a Legco meeting.

“That has always been something that sometimes troubled me.”

Cheng said she decided to take the matter forward after a deputy director of prosecution, Vinci Lam, was recently appointed as a senior counsel. Lam was previously admitted as a solicitor and qualified as a barrister last year.

Cheng said the proposal won’t change the requirements of what qualifies someone to take silk – their ability, knowledge of the law, standing and experience.

Approval of the Chief Justice, the chairman of the Bar Association and the president of the Law Society will still be required.

Cheng added that government solicitors will lose the title of senior counsel when they leave the administration.

Separately, the justice secretary also told lawmakers that over the past few years an average of around 60 people had resigned from the Department of Justice, saying people should look at the figures in a fair way rather than describing it as a surge of departures.

She noted her department’s workload had increased recently, while it was still facing what she described as unnecessary pressure and unfounded allegations.