April 19, 2021 09:40
Proposed legislation ought to be studied closely in the committee stage of the process of turning them into ordinances. This vetting process constituted a significant part of Margaret Ng’s work in Legco. Photo: Youtube

I do not know what the evidence was in the District Court prosecution that resulted in convictions for organising and participating in an unauthorised assembly, hence I shall not venture an opinion on the merits of the case, or lack of same.

Undoubtedly, there will be many eulogies for Martin Lee QC SC, a professional colleague and friend of mine, so I hope he will pardon me if I do not add to the mountain of praise he will undoubtedly receive.

What I shall do here, is give my perspective on my good and learned friend Margaret Ng.

Small in stature, Margaret is a giant in human terms.

I have very little respect for politicians of any persuasion but Margaret is that rara avis, a dedicated, honest and committed representative of the people of Hong Kong. Elected to represent the legal constituency in the Legislative Council, her work enured to the benefit of the public at large.

One of the unseen and thankless tasks of a good legislator is to vet proposed legislation, to weed out the inconsistencies, the contradictions, the badly-worded provisions that could adversely affect peoples’ lives. Governments have an unhappy knack of dreaming up ill-considered laws that have unhappy consequences, either unforeseen or included with a cavalier disregard for their effect.

Proposed legislation, better known as bills in the common parlance, are – or ought to be – studied closely in the committee stage of the process of turning them into ordinances. This vetting process constituted a significant part of Margaret’s work in Legco where she brought her legal knowledge and experience as well as her facility with language to bear on the legislation proposed by government. In so doing, she served the entire community, a duty she performed with meticulous attention to detail and selflessly in terms of the countless hours she devoted to the work.

When she contributed to debate in the chamber, it was in clearly thought out and carefully articulated terms, not the mindless oral flatulence of the legislators of recent years. Her criticisms were informed and constructive and for those with the capacity to make a value judgment, her contributions were respected.

Her work on behalf of the legal profession embraced the world of solicitors, barristers and the judiciary for whom she believed she had a special responsibility. The public at large is unaware that judges do not respond to criticism or attacks on the quality or disinterest of their judgments. There is a sensible convention that it detracts from the stature of the judiciary to enter into public discourse.

In a properly constituted legal system, it is for the government’s senior law officer to respond to the sort of bibulous attacks on judges that some of Hong Kong’s so-called lawyers launch. Margaret was ever ready to defend the judiciary lest unsubstantiated assaults were left unanswered.

As I know from first-hand experience, Margaret is not only decent, principled and honest but loyal. Many years ago, an underhand ploy was utilised to have me removed from the Bar Council of which we were both members at the time. Margaret declared her intention to resign unless I was reinstated.

She came to the Bar from her prior profession of journalist, bringing her integrity, experience of the world and her felicity with the language. She was, as actors say, a quick study, applying herself diligently to mastering the subject matter of each case. This I can vouch for because I had the distinct pleasure of her as my junior counsel.

That Margaret Ng should be singled out for prosecution and now finds herself convicted of a criminal offence reflects exceedingly badly on the Hong Kong government. Instead of awarding her a Grand Bauhinia for her sterling work on behalf of the whole community, a graceless ingrate of a government chose to vilify her.

In her speech in mitigation to the court, she described herself as a servant of the common law and the people of Hong Kong. It was a moving address and one which I would have cherished the privilege to have been in a position to deliver on her behalf.

As with everything that she does, standing convicted, she conducted herself with quiet dignity and delivered her mitigation speech without rancour. Those who take the trouble to read her words – and I commend it as essential reading for everyone who loves Hong Kong – will hear a mouse that roared.

As the United States found in the eponymously named satirical novel by Leonard Wibberley, some mice need to be hearkened to.

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