Hong Kong opens second round of higher rights of audience applications

The Hong Kong Law Society is this month accepting the second round of applications from solicitors for higher rights of audience (HRA) following new legislation introduced last year allowing non-barristers to appear in court.

Solicitors from local and international law firms have been given one month from 1 September to apply for advocacy rights, with most required to undergo a litigation training programme overseen by the College of Law.

Those with significant advocacy experience can request an exemption from elements of the training process.

“We’re taking applications now for the next batch, from 1 September for one month,” said Dieter Yih, the former president of the Law Society and current council member.

“Clients need more access to justice. They need a wider selection [of advocates]. At the moment there are only 1,100 barristers in Hong Kong, so the choice is limited. We want to increase [that pool of talent].”

Hong Kong introduced new legislation on the issue last June; taking the first round of applications for HRA in September 2012.

In February, fifteen of the city’s top dispute resolution partners – including top-ranked Skadden partner Paul Mitchard QC, Baker & McKenzie duo Gary Seib and Kareena Teh, and Allen & Overy arbitration partner Matthew Gearing – qualified as solicitor advocates after being granted higher rights with exemption from training.

Those urged to apply for the second round include solicitors involved in civil and criminal litigation work, and particularly those with a minimum of five years PQE.

However, some of the city’s best-known litigators, including Davis Polk & Wardwell top-ranked disputes partner Martin Rogers and Linklaters global litigation head Marc Harvey, said they are not applying this year due to time constraints.

Alongside the new rules on advocacy, the Law Society is also pushing for more solicitors to become judges.

“Traditionally the pool of judges tends to come from barristers,” said Yih. “If you’re talking about the high court, court of appeal and court of final appeal, you see very few solicitors who are judges.

“One of the difficulties we have faced in the past – and the same argument goes for why solicitors cannot be appointed senior counsel – is the argument that solicitors do not have sufficient advocacy skills.

“But now with higher rights of audience and the appointment of solicitor advocates, it is obviously recognised that these people have the sufficient level of advocacy skills.

“We have been very active and very vocal about [this]. These solicitor advocates should be getting the same treatment as barristers. We think this is one of the ways that the judges shortage could be addressed.”

Related: Top firms aim to win full Hong Kong court rights as market liberalises.