On August 11, the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee decided that law practitioners from China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) may practice the law of the mainland in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area after passing a specially designed qualification exam.
Under the current law, only those that have passed the unified national qualification exam for legal professionals are to be admitted to practice the Chinese law on the mainland. This new legislative move is certainly a big step toward greater integration of the legal services market and service trade in general in the Greater Bay Area.
Actually, the mainland’s legal services market has been gradually opened to the HKSAR’s legal professionals since the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) came into existence in 2003. The mainland has offered more preferential treatments to the HKSAR’s legal services suppliers under the CEPA than under China’s WTO commitments.
Just to name a few, according to the CEPA and its derivative legal instrument on trade-in service, the HKSAR’s law firms that have set up representative offices on the mainland are allowed to operate in association with the mainland’s law firms, and the HKSAR’s legal practitioners are allowed to work as legal consultants to the mainland’s law firms. More importantly, the HKSAR residents are allowed to sit for the national qualification exam for legal professionals while foreigners are not allowed.
Needless to say, those HKSAR residents that pass the examination are able to practice the Chinese law on the mainland in a certain manner.
The decision of the NPC Standing Committee has taken a step further, which makes it much easier for the HKSAR’s law practitioners to serve their clients in nine Guangdong cities once they pass a local qualification examination.
As a matter of fact, as the HKSAR is actively moving to establish itself as the Asia Pacific centre for legal services and dispute settlement, the central government has lent relentless support to the professional ambitions of the HKSAR’s legal professionals.
While the local governments in the Greater Bay Area have already acted with a view to integrating its legal services market with that of the HKSAR, the measures they have taken in this regard provide even greater opportunities for the HKSAR’s law practitioners.
For example, in Qianhai, a free trade zone in Shenzhen neighbouring the HKSAR, greater flexibility is provided to the HKSAR’s law firms in running associations with the mainland’s partner law firms. They are thus in an excellent position to offer legal services to their clients.
Indeed, the HKSAR is well-positioned in the legal services market. It has been an internationally competitive legal service provider and its rule of law has gained worldwide recognition. Therefore, the mainland’s legal circle is willing to borrow the experience from its HKSAR counterparts.
In the Greater Bay Area, for instance, the HKSAR lawyers are regularly invited to sit on the mediation forum or arbitration tribunal to handle commercial disputes involving the HKSAR residents or companies. The practice has proven to be quite helpful in resolving commercial disputes and exposing local legal workers to international practice.
It should be noted that the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” is the very reason for this situation. The unfolding of the Belt & Road Initiative as well as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area development strategy contribute to the further opening of the mainland’s legal services markets to the HKSAR.
We can anticipate that the HKSAR will continue to be an international hub of legal service insomuch as it is firmly unto the road of “One Country, Two Systems.”