• Soon-to-be solicitor allegedly posted ‘black cops and families go to hell’ on his Facebook page
  • Accusation comes just days before he was expected to formally enter the legal profession

The Department of Justice on Lower Albert Road in Central. Photo: Nora Tam

Hong Kong’s justice department has ordered a trainee lawyer to explain why he was accused of directing hate speech at local police on social media just days before he qualified to join the legal profession.

The Department of Justice on Tuesday wrote to the law firm where the soon-to-be solicitor, surnamed Chu, worked for two years to demand a response, two legal sources told the Post. Chu left the firm in June, but it has continued to represent him in the admission process.

Chu was expected to be formally admitted as a lawyer before Justice Anthony Chan at the High Court on Saturday.

In its letter to the firm, the justice department said it received a complaint objecting to Chu’s admission to the legal ranks and requesting a response from him by Wednesday.

According to the letter, the complaint accused Chu of posting the phrase “black cops and families go to hell” and other foul language against police on his Facebook on July 28.

A redacted letter from the Secretary for Justice raised concerns over the application of a solicitor trainee. Photo: Handout

The justice department wrote: “The complainant stated that such improper conduct was directed against the Hong Kong Police and the hate speech indiscriminately targeted the innocent families of police officers who [should] not be verbally abused.”

The letter said: “In light of the improper conduct, the [Secretary of Justice] is urged to oppose the application for admission.”

Chu’s firm has declined to comment on the allegation.

“We won’t comment based on client confidentiality. In this admission [to the legal trade], we represent him and we can’t reveal any more details,” said a staff member who refused to give his name.

The source said Chu’s admission before the High Court was adjourned for a later date.

Hong Kong’s court procedures – under the Admission and Registration Rules – require a trainee solicitor to apply to the judiciary, where the Secretary for Justice or the Law Society can raise any concerns over the applicant.

The final decision to accept the solicitor rests with the judiciary, which must rule on whether the applicant is “fit and proper” to practise law.

It is very rare, however, for the court to object to applications by law graduates to become a solicitor or barrister. A veteran lawyer said the rejection of a lawyer had “almost never happened before”, adding that the only cases he could cite involved applicants who were found to have criminal backgrounds.

A separate legal source said the justice department had not formed a view on whether to object to Chu’s application.

A judiciary spokesman said all applications for admitting barristers or solicitors would be dealt with according to the relevant ordinances, and it would not comment on individual cases.

A member of the Law Society also sidestepped the issue, saying: “The letter was issued by the Department of Justice. It will be more appropriate to approach the [department] directly for comment on this matter.”

The Department of Justice refused to comment on the case, but said the justice minister “has a role in assisting the court to come to a view as to whether or not an applicant is eligible for admission as a solicitor”.

Solicitor Kevin Yam Kin-fung, founder of the Progressive Lawyers’ Group, said the admission procedure was just a formality. He questioned whether the justice department had gone too far by investigating the trainee’s online remarks.

“When online comments are used to approve whether someone could become a lawyer, it will have a chilling effect,” Yam said. “If this could disqualify a lawyer, how many lawyers may be similarly affected?”

Separately, the Law Society will take up complaints against pro-establishment lawmaker and lawyer Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, according to an email from its investigation committee obtained by the Post.

Ho became a hate figure among protesters after he was strongly criticised for defending white-clad men who had beaten up commuters at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.

Online users and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, former leader of the Civic Party, have lodged complaints against Ho for bringing the profession into disrepute.

Ho said the complaint was part of a smear campaign against him and, “all these illegal threatening me will not succeed”.

The Law Society has declined to comment.This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Justice Department orders trainee lawyer to explain ‘hate speech’

Article originally appear in South China Morning Post on 21 August 2019