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Patrick CHAN Siu Oi




Patrick CHAN Siu Oi

Doctor of Laws
honoris causa

The Law Faculty of this University has produced many fine lawyers but The Honourable Mr Justice Patrick Chan Siu Oi's contribution towards the development of our legal system makes him perhaps our most outstanding legal alumnus. In particular he merits our deep appreciation for his contribution to legal jurisprudence and his unwavering judicial advocacy in support of the rule of law and the protection of the rights of our people at a most important time in our development.

Patrick is truly a local product. Having completed his schooling at Wah Yan College, he obtained both his LLB and PCLL from this University. With remarkable prescience, his classmates gave him the nickname of "Lord Denning" the famous English reforming judge. In 1976 he was called to the Bar in Hong Kong where he practised in Patrick Yu's chambers for a decade.

Sitting at his desk one day and seeing many of his colleagues making plans to go overseas to acquire foreign passports, Patrick, who had no intention of leaving Hong Kong, asked himself how he could best contribute to the territory's future. He decided that the answer lay in joining the Judiciary. Having served as a District Court judge for four years, he was promoted to the post of High Court Judge in 1992. At the Handover he was appointed as the first Chief Judge of the newly formed High Court, a position he held with distinction until appointment to the Court of Final Appeal in 2000. Patrick was the first, and indeed remains, the only local graduate sitting on the Court of Final Appeal.

Patrick has indeed amply achieved his ambition of serving Hong Kong. His contribution to the Hong Kong community might conveniently be regarded as fivefold.

First and foremost - and of course gaining most public prominence - is his work as a Judge involved at the highest level of judicial decision-making. This, of course, lays upon his shoulders the weighty task of interpreting and developing our law so as to do justice amongst litigants. He has played a leading role in many important decisions, especially in the period immediately following the Handover. Indeed his leading judgment delivered in 1997 affirming the legality of the Provisional Legislative Council is an important part of Hong Kong's history.

Secondly, Patrick has worked tirelessly to introduce and propagate a bilingual legal system aimed at rendering the law and court proceedings understandable to both English and Chinese speakers.

In facing this challenge Hong Kong is not, of course, unique, but the challenge was extreme. Before the Handover we had a legal system in which almost all our laws were enacted in English and in which most of our court cases were conducted in English notwithstanding that an overwhelming majority of Hong Kong people either spoke English as a second language or, in some cases, not at all. For judicial proceedings, interpreters ruled the day. The rule of law requires laws and judicial proceedings to be understood by those subject to them and an urgent remedy was required.

In this Patrick played a significant role. First, following his recommendations as Chairman of the Working Party on the Use of Chinese in the District Court, he was instrumental in introducing trials in Chinese in that forum. His lead was subsequently followed in the High Court.

Secondly, he led by example always himself being happy to hear judicial proceedings in Chinese. He deeply believes that common law principles encapsulated in the courts' judgments should be accessible to members of the public in a language they can readily understand. Patrick puts his ideals into practice, playing a leading role in handling applications before the Court of Final Appeal in Chinese and remarkably all deliberations in Chinese have been written by him.

Patrick has also played a leading role in arranging courses in Tsinghua University for the training of Hong Kong judges in Chinese to facilitate their hearing trials in Chinese and writing judgments in Chinese.

He has also facilitated the judicial placement scheme which is organised annually for Mainland scholars and junior judges who embark on a training programme in common law at this University.

Thirdly, Patrick has been a firm advocate of Law Reform. One of the most significant challenges facing legal systems throughout the common law world has been the cost and complexity of civil litigation. It was the sad situation that many lower and middle income people could simply not afford to involve themselves in civil litigation and many who did embark upon the perilous forensic journey were obliged to do so legally unrepresented. In 2000 Chief Justice Andrew Li appointed Patrick to chair a Working Party on Civil Justice Reform which was aimed at making the civil justice system more readily accessible to litigants by speeding up the litigation process and reducing costs. Patrick, ably supported by Mr Justice Ribeiro, Mr Justice Geoffrey Ma and many others, produced a Report which, with unusual speed and little controversy, became law. It is too early to make any final judgment on its success but most would agree that it has made a marked improvement in the process of civil justice. Patrick has also served as a valued member of the Law Reform Commission for several years.

The fourth aspect of Patrick's profound contribution to the development of our legal system had been in the arena of legal education. As a long serving member of the Advisory Committee on Legal Education and its successor the Standing Committee on Legal Education and Training which oversees legal education in Hong Kong, Patrick has provided effective and insightful counsel over many years. He also sits on the PCLL Academic Boards of The University of Hong Kong and City University. His wisdom gained on the Bench has been generously passed down to the teachers. As a mentor of our students for many years that same wisdom has reached our next generation of lawyers.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, Patrick finds time in his full life for community activities - in particular as a member of such charitable organisations as Caritas and The Christian Family Service Centre. He also inherited from Sir TL Yang the office of President of the Scout Association of Hong Kong, a position he held for ten years during which time he participated enthusiastically in many scouting activities including nights under canvass.

Patrick has sat for many years as a member of this University's Council and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in 2003. Patrick also received an Honorary Doctorate in Laws from City University of Hong Kong in 2008.

This finally brings me to the essence of the man. His lifetime ambition, he tells me, has always been to become a social worker and he has been driven through his legal career by a strong social conscience and powerful patriotic sentiment. Although social services have sadly been deprived of a great potential servant joining their ranks, happily Patrick has been able, through his legal work, to provide great service to the community.

Mr Pro-Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to present to you Mr Justice Patrick Chan Siu Oi for the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered by Professor Michael Wilkinson, the Public Orator of the University. 

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