The new chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association wants the government to amend the sweeping national security law to convince countries to reinstate their extradition agreements with the city.
Paul Harris SC, a veteran human rights barrister, expressed concern that some of the provisions of the new security legislation, imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in late June last year, appeared at odds with rights guaranteed under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
He also pledged to do his best to strengthen the rule of law, which he described as having “a difficult time” in Hong Kong.
Harris was elected unopposed on Thursday as the association’s new chairman, succeeding Philip Dykes, who was in the role for three years. Harris will be assisted by two deputies, Anita Yip and Erik Shum Sze-man.
Upon his election, Harris said he would campaign for changes to the national security law because the suspension of extradition agreements would make it easier for fugitives to move around.
“We should remember that at the moment a lot of countries have suspended extradition agreements with Hong Kong, which means a murderer can avoid justice by moving to Hong Kong from London or from Hong Kong to London,” he said.
“I hope to explore whether there is any chance of getting the government to agree to some modifications to that national security law that will enable extradition arrangements to be reinstated. I don’t know if that would be possible, but it is what I am going to work towards.”
He also said he was “particularly concerned” about some provisions in the legislation that appeared to put some officials “above the law”.
He cited as an example Article 60 of the law, which spares mainland national security officers from police search, inspection and detention, while performing their duties in the city.
Article 55 of the law also states that a suspect could be sent to trial on the mainland if the case is deemed complex or serious because of the involvement of a foreign country or external elements.
“It is a difficult time for the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Harris said. “I am a person who is deeply committed to the rule of law.
“That means on the one hand, I don’t like violent demonstrators, and on the other hand, I don’t like the authorities that abuse their power. I will be trying in my term to strengthen the rule of law anywhere I can.”
Harris also said he was “utterly appalled and disgusted” over attacks on judges.
Born in England, Harris was educated at Lincoln College, Oxford. He was admitted to the Bar in Britain in 1976, and was called to the Hong Kong Bar in 1993. His practice has been mainly in constitutional and administrative law.
In Hong Kong, he also founded Human Rights Monitor, the city’s main human rights advocacy organisation.
Harris is fluent in Cantonese, French, German, and Spanish and regularly translates legal documents from those languages. He is an Associate of the Institute of Translators and Interpreters.