Mr Wong Yan Lung is an inspiration and role model not only for aspiring lawyers but for all members of our diverse community. Born of humble working class parents, he rose to become the youngest leader of the legal branch of the Hong Kong Government in the history of Hong Kong.
During his primary school studies Yan Lung helped his father, who was a hawker, sell ice-cream and soft drinks. But at the same time he studied hard and was rewarded with a place at Queen's College, where he later became head prefect. It was there that he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in law. Having excelled at his A-levels, he applied to Hong Kong University Law School and was admitted. He would, indeed, have become my student. Alas, it was not to be. Being an outstandingly talented student, he was nominated by his Principal for the newly established Prince Philip Scholarships, which is an award scheme established by the Friends of Cambridge University (of which our Pro-Chancellor is Chairman) for providing first class education at Cambridge for talented local young students. After a gruelling interview, Yan Lung boarded his first ever aeroplane bound for Magdalene College Cambridge to read law. He says that this was a challenging and character building experience, studying with the intellectual elite in a language with which he was far from confident. His anxieties were groundless and again he excelled.
He returned to Hong Kong in 1986 determined to pursue a career at the Bar. He was fortunate in gaining a pupillage with Andrew Li who later, of course, became Hong Kong's first post-Handover Chief Justice and who is also an Honorary Graduate of this University. Andrew became his mentor and a strong relationship of mutual trust grew between them.
Yan Lung never looked back. Practising largely in civil and commercial law, he quickly attained the rank of Senior Counsel and his services were much in demand from solicitors and lay clients.
During this time of success, however, he still found time to devote to charitable activities. With a strong Christian faith (going back to his Cambridge days) and a personal understanding of the problems which accompany poverty, he was deeply committed to the Hong Kong Christian Concern for the Homeless Association and personally assisted in providing rice boxes and material and emotional support for those in need. Indeed he and his lovely wife Esther donated their wedding gifts to this charity.
In 2005 he succeeded Elsie Leung to the very demanding post of Secretary for Justice. This was a vital time in the short history of the HKSAR. Never had the maintenance of the rule of law been so vital. Never had the maintenance of the independence of the Judiciary been so important. Together with his mentor Andrew Li, Yan Lung stood firm and resolute on both issues. When called upon to deal with delicate issues such as the proper role of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in interpreting our Basic Law and the role of the Secretary for Justice in determining whether or not to pursue particular prosecutions, Yan Lung demonstrated leadership, wisdom and integrity.
Indeed he saw the reversion of sovereignty to the PRC as bringing both a benefit and a challenge. Of this he said:
This ability to embrace different streams is the lifeline of Hong Kong. Historically Hong Kong has been a melting pot of Chinese and Western cultures. Generations of immigrants from different parts of China and the world help to build a world city. The design of 'One Country Two Systems' has not only given Hong Kong a new lease of life, but also imbued it with resilience, vitality and opportunities. In tackling challenges under the new constitutional order, the need for in-depth understanding of the contexts of the respective regimes goes without saying. More importantly, however, is an overriding concern for the long term good of all as opposed to part, an uncompromising commitment to the order, values and foundational principles, an enlightened liberty to identify and accept non-essentials, a humility and courage to embrace differences, as well as the wisdom to construct rather than pull down. The capability to accommodate does not necessarily entail convergence. They can be opportunities for both sides to reflect, review and test its own system, to see if the habitual and orthodox reaction can still catch up with the new jurisprudential and globalized environment and thereby create paths to consolidation or improvement.
Yan Lung also possesses another quality in abundance; humility. I have worked with him in several different contexts including serving under his Chairmanship of the Law Reform Commission and I have always been impressed by his respect for the views of others and the care and love he shows for his fellow men and women. His sincerity and integrity are, in my experience, beyond reproach.
He retired as Secretary for Justice in 2012 and has resumed a successful practice at the Bar. When asked what he considered to be his finest achievement as Secretary for Justice, Yan Lung replied that he would have been very angry with himself if, during his tenure, he had allowed any diminution in the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary or the integrity of the common law system. Looking back, I can confirm that he had no grounds for anger on this account.
Yan Lung has been involved in the life of our University for many years. I first met him when he volunteered to assist our advocacy training in the mid-1980s. Since then he has held the position of Honorary Lecturer in the Department of Professional Legal Education and has served as a member of the Department's Academic Board. He has also been very active as Chairman of the Legal Education Committee of the Bar in improving the system of legal education.
He was made an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge in 2009, received the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2012 and has received honorary doctorates from most of the universities in Hong Kong.
In sum, Yan Lung has performed with excellence at the highest levels of private practice and Government service. In 2007 he ended an address to students quoting from Martin Luther King:
Make a career of humanity and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.
He has indeed lived up to those high ideals. He is a truly inspirational figure.
It is my honour and privilege to present to you Mr Wong Yan Lung, SC, for the award of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Citation written and delivered by Professor Michael Wilkinson, the Public Orator.