HONG KONG - The Hong Kong Law Society has sent a strong rebuke to Beijing after it passed a vote of no confidence in its own president, who backed a controversial white paper reaffirming China's control over the city.
China issued its first ever policy document stipulating how Hong Kong should be governed in June, in what was widely interpreted as a warning to the city not to overstep the boundaries of its autonomy.
It included an assertion that judges should safeguard national security and sovereignty, a sentiment which has angered many in the the city's legal community who consider it an affront to their judicial independence.
The Law Society president Ambrose Lam in June called the white paper a "positive" document, despite growing anger in the city that viewed the document as interference by Beijing.
The vote, which took place late Thursday, saw 2,392 members of the city's 8,000-strong Law Society voting in favour of the no confidence poll, with 1,478 voting against.
"The Law Society respects the decision of its members and has sent a clear and powerful message to defend the independence of the judiciary and to speak out against the white paper," Kevin Yam, one of the three lawyers who tabled the motion told reporters after the vote.
"The most encouraging thing we saw today was that at this important moment, Hong Kong still has a group of lawyers that are holding their ground" an emotional Yam said.
The vote comes at a time of growing unrest over the perceived influence Beijing has over the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city.
Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain on July 1, 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement, which allows residents civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest But public discontent is at its highest for years notably over Beijing's insistence that it vet candidates before the vote for the city's next leader in 2017.
Campaigners from the Occupy Central group have pledged to mobilise protesters to take over some of the busiest thoroughfares of the former British colony to push for electoral reform.
'Judges have no master'
Law Society president Lam is now facing pressure to resign but he has yet to indicate whether he will.
"Nobody has won, and no one has lost, the Law Society must stay unified," Lam said after the motion was passed.
Former Hong Kong chief justice Andrew Li said in an editorial in Friday's South China Morning Post that the white paper had raised "widespread concern" over the city's judicial independence.
"What is of great concern is the requirement in the white paper that judges should be patriotic," Li said.
"Under the principle of judicial independence, judges should not be pro or anti anyone or anything... Judges have no master, political or otherwise," Li said.
More than a thousand lawyers all dressed in black took to the streets of Hong Kong in June in a silent march against interference by Beijing in the city's judiciary.
After the publication of the white paper, the Hong Kong Bar Association said in a statement that judges should safeguard judicial independence as they are not the government's "administrators".