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Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council on October 23:
A report of the Steering Committee on the Review of Legal Education and Training released in August 2001 recommended that the postgraduate qualification programme, namely Post Graduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL), be discontinued and a free-standing institution be established, preferably in its own premises, to conduct a course of practical vocational preparation for law graduates seeking to be admitted as barristers or solicitors in Hong Kong. head to the G&S DUI Attorneys at Law site to know more about this. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Law Society proposed a new qualifying examination for solicitors to replace the examinations conducted by the three universities running Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and PCLL programmes, namely the University of Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and the City University of Hong Kong. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it knows, in the past three years, the respective numbers of LLB or Juris Doctor (JD) graduates from the three universities, the respective numbers of LLB and JD graduates from local and overseas universities applying for and being admitted or not admitted to the PCLL programmes run by the three universities, their success rates, and the admission criteria of such programmes;
(b) of the basis and authority on which the Government has granted the three universities, which are institutions providing tertiary education, the power to determine who shall be qualified to be a lawyer by running the PCLL programmes, as completion of such programmes was a prerequisite for law-degree holders to become lawyers; and
(c) given that the PCLL programmes run by the three universities have different curricula and examinations, whether the Government will consider making reference to the practice of the United States and Australia and introducing a common qualifying examination for law graduates, in order to uphold the principles of fairness and openness, and to ensure that the entrants to the legal profession are well qualified; whether the Government will actively consider introducing amendments to the Legal Practitioner Ordinance to abolish all PCLL programmes; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and whether it will adopt measures to increase the number of legal practitioners in Hong Kong and enhance their professional standards?
As the present question is concerned with policy matters under the purview of both the Department of Justice and the Education Bureau, I represent both parties to give a joint response, as follows:
(a) From the 2010/11 to 2012/13 academic years, the total number of students graduating each year from the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) programmes (including double law degree programmes) offered by the City University of Hong Kong (CityU), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) ranged from 310 to 343. As for Juris Doctor (JD) programmes, which are offered by the three universities on a self-financing basis, the total number of students graduating each year ranged from 294 to 341. Over the past three academic years, the total number of applications for Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) programmes received by the three universities each year ranged from 1 203 to 1 522, including between 836 and 1 196 applications lodged by graduates with local law qualifications, and between 326 and 405 lodged by graduates with non-local law qualifications. It should be noted that a law graduate can submit applications for PCLL admission to more than one university. The total number of admitted PCLL students as a percentage to the total number of PCLL applications received by the three universities has been quite stable over the past three academic years, ranging from 41% to 46% in respect of students with local qualifications and 42% to 43% in respect of students with non-local qualifications. Given that law graduates can lodge multiple applications for PCLL admission, the actual “success rate” of applicants should be even higher.
Further details, including breakdown figures by institution, are set out at Annex A.
Pursuant to section 74A(1) of the Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap. 159) (LPO), the Standing Committee on Legal Education and Training (SCLET) has been established since 2004. Among other things, SCLET is empowered under section 74A(2)(a)(ii) of LPO to keep under review, evaluate and assess the academic requirements and standards for PCLL admission. SCLET has prescribed the entry requirements to PCLL applicable to all students seeking admission from September 2008 onwards. A copy of the relevant statement by SCLET on the entry requirements is at Annex B. All three universities have confirmed that, for applicants who have fulfilled these stipulated entry requirements, selection for PCLL admission is solely based on merit, taking into account a number of factors such as academic excellence and interview performance.
(b) Empowered by their respective governing ordinances to offer degree programmes, CityU, CUHK and HKU currently provide a variety of law-related degree programmes at various levels for those who wish to pursue legal education and training, e.g. LLB (including double law degree), JD, PCLL as well as other law-related taught and research postgraduate programmes.
Insofar as the eligibility requirements for admission as solicitors or barristers in Hong Kong are concerned, they are set out in LPO and its subsidiary legislation. According to sections 4 and 27 of LPO, the Court may admit a person whom the Court considers to be fit and proper as a solicitor or a barrister of the High Court (as the case may be) provided that such a person has complied with the relevant requirements prescribed by the two legal professional bodies, namely the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Bar Association. The Council of the Law Society and the Council of the Bar Association have for this purpose prescribed requirements with respect to residency, the passing of examinations and the completion of vocational training for prospective lawyers. Completion of the PCLL programmes offered by any of the three universities is currently stipulated in the subsidiary legislation made by the two legal professional bodies as a prerequisite for entering into a trainee solicitor contract or for admission as a barrister. The relevant provisions can be found in section 7 of the Trainee Solicitors Rules (Cap. 159J) and section 4 of the Barristers (Qualification for Admission and Pupillage) Rules (Cap. 159AC).
(c) Apart from prescribing the entry requirements for PCLL admission and among other things, SCLET is also empowered by LPO to keep under review, evaluate and assess the system and provision of legal education and training in Hong Kong. SCLET is now chaired by the Hon Justice Patrick Chan, NPJ and consists of members representing the Judiciary, the Department of Justice, the Education Bureau, the Law Society, the Bar Association, the three universities, the Federation for Self-financing Tertiary Education, as well as members of the public.
The Administration understands that SCLET will conduct a large scale review of the present system of legal education and training in Hong Kong with a view to enhancing the system to meet the challenges of legal practice and the needs of Hong Kong. The question of a common qualifying examination for entry into the legal profession is likely to be one of the issues to be studied by SCLET in the review. The Administration takes the view that SCLET is an appropriate forum to consider the issue given its terms of reference and its membership which includes representatives from the two legal professional bodies, the three universities and the Judiciary. The Administration further notes that the Law Society has recently informed the Legislative Council Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services that the Law Society would conduct a consultation on the feasibility of a common qualifying examination for solicitors.
The Administration will give due consideration to the results of the review to be carried out by SCLET and the consultation to be conducted by the Law Society. It will also listen carefully to the views of all stakeholders with a view to enhancing the professional standards of our legal practitioners and the development of the legal profession.