Hong Kong's first Chinese prosecutor Patrick Yu dies at 96

January 17, 2019 13:47
Patrick Yu, the first Chinese to be appointed crown counsel in colonial Hong Kong in 1951, died on Saturday. Photo: HKEJ

Legal luminaries paid tribute to Patrick Yu Shuk-siu, Hong Kong's first Chinese prosecutor, who has died at the age of 96.

The celebrated barrister died on Saturday, and details of the memorial service will be announced later, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports, citing an obituary placed by his family on Wednesday.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said in a statement that he was deeply saddened to hear of Yu’s passing, noting that “for many lawyers in Hong Kong, including judges, barristers and solicitors, [he was] an inspiration and represented the ultimate aspiration as to the qualities required in the laws”.

The top judge said Yu was not only “an eloquent and thoroughly persuasive advocate” but also “unshakeable in the pursuit of the ideals of the law and of the rule of law itself”.

In a separate statement, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said Yu was “one of Hong Kong's most distinguished, reputable and well-respected advocates”, adding he “would be dearly missed by the legal sector and the society".

Born in Hong Kong in 1922, Yu was admitted to the University of Hong Kong on a government scholarship and awarded a wartime degree in 1941. In the same year, he served with the British Naval Intelligence and then in 1943 was commissioned as an officer in the Intelligence Corps of the Army of the Republic of China during World War II.

Yu went to the University of Oxford on a government scholarship to study politics, philosophy and economics in 1945 before adding law to the list and using only 10 months to pass the England and Wales bar exam in 1949. 

In 1950, Yu became a barrister in Hong Kong at the age of 28. He became the first Chinese to be appointed crown counsel in colonial Hong Kong in 1951 but left the job not long after because he was not satisfied with his remuneration, which was only a quarter of that being received by foreign prosecutors. 

He started his own practice in 1953 and soon earned fame in the profession. In the 1960s he helped the University of Hong Kong to establish the first law school in the territory. 

Yu was a mentor to a number of lawyers who later became judges. 

He was offered a judgeship on the Supreme Court three times by the government from 1970 to 1980, but he declined because he considered the terms of employment not fair enough. 

In 1994, Yu became a life member of the Hong Kong Bar Association and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the HKU in 2013. 

In his first autobiography, A Seventh Child and the Law, Yu urged the government to continue adopting the “one country, two systems” principle and make the most of it. 

After the handover, he dismissed fears that the rule of law in Hong Kong would suffer as a result of the territory's return to China, calling such a view “nonsense”.

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HKU Pro-Chancellor David Li (left) and Professor Tsui Lap-chee, then the university's vice-chancellor, presents the honorary Doctor of Laws degree certificate to Patrick Yu at his home on March 17, 2013. Photo: HKU