By -

Amid concerns about escalating violence, LAWASIA held its 32nd Annual Conference in Hong Kong from 5 – 8 November.

More than 600 local and international delegates attended despite simmering tensions between the Hong Kong Government and pro-democracy protesters.

Themed “Harmonisation through Synergy”, the conference was held in conjunction with the Law Society of Hong Kong, whose President Melissa Pang has been named LAWASIA’s President-Elect. Pang welcomed delegates at the opening ceremony.

“Hong Kong is a very blessed place … It has always been said that the rule of law is one of Hong Kong’s greatest strengths. It is the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s society. [We share with LAWASIA] the core value of promoting the administration of justice, the protection of human rights and the maintenance of the rule of law,” she said.   

“Despite the situation in Hong Kong at large, your steadfast support has brought us to this point, and we are very pleased to have over 600 participants from 30 jurisdictions with us.”

With signature wit, outgoing LAWASIA President Christopher Leong, whose three-year tenure came to an end at the conference’s closing ceremony, applauded Hong Kong for its strong reputation in business and shopping, as well as its “very vibrant street activities”.

“I congratulate you all for being here,” he said on a more serious note. 

“We are here in a very difficult period for Hong Kong, which is going through turbulent times. LAWASIA is determined to be in Hong Kong, to support and stand with all of Hong Kong during this challenging time for all Hong Kongers. The strength of LAWASIA is in its raison d’etre, resolve, and ability to venture where others may hesitate.” 

Law Society CEO and LAWASIA Secretary-General Michael Tidball addressed delegates at the closing ceremony, saying the organisation had come a long way since its conception 55 years ago.

“The concept of an Asia Pacific legal association was first raised in 1964 at a United Nations Human Rights Seminar in Kabul, Afghanistan,” he said.

“Against the scenic backdrop of the Hindu Kush mountain range, delegates from around the world enthusiastically embraced the vision of a new kind of association within the ESCAP region.

“This association would harness the disparate national bar and law organisations throughout the Asia Pacific to encourage and facilitate regional interaction, establish a voice for the interests of the legal community, promote the rule of law, respect for human rights and high standards of legal practice, facilitate quality cross-border legal education, and support business law initiatives to strengthen relationships.

“The impetus that this idea received at the UN Seminar meant our regional association became romantically known as having been ‘conceived in the mountains of Afghanistan’.”

Since then, said Tidball, the organisation has evolved to a point whereby it is growing in size and influence.

“LAWASIA has grown into an influential and effective multilateral association of lawyers, judges, jurists and legal associations from across the ESCAP region,” he said.

“The strength and dynamism of LAWASIA is a direct reflection of you, our members, who continue to advocate for the rule of law across an enormous geographical region.”

The closing ceremony saw Malaysia’s Christopher Leong hand the mantle of LAWASIA President to South Korea’s Chunghwan Choi.

Choi, a senior partner at Lee & Ko in Seoul, outlined his vision for the future of the organisation. 

Among his priorities will be modernising LAWASIA’s communication infrastructure; providing more educational opportunities; empowering more individual members to take on leadership roles in LAWASIA; expanding the membership base to become a more inclusive, collective voice; and collaborating more with international organisations and foundations.

“I hope we will be able to warmly embrace harmony and integration of the multiple views and geo-political environments of our organisation,” he said. 

“We will celebrate diversity in race, religion, language, culture, structure of the rule of law, and human rights protection. I will aptly communicate with our members and diligently focus on consensus to achieve those goals.”