Developments in Hong Kong Legal Education

Date01 July 2016
Published date01 July 2016
Subject MatterArticles
Developments in Hong Kong
Legal Education
Luke Marsh1
Michael Ramsden1
The history of legal education in Hong Kong is a history of reform. The various inflection points along
its story—the establishment of each of the three law schools, the development of the Postgraduate
Certificate in Laws (PCLL) and its role in the legal profession, the Redmond–Roper Report and its
aftermath—all demonstrate an effort to develop a legal system appropriate to the specific context of
Hong Kong. This article traces these developments with a view to providing further insight into ongoing
reviews about the structure of legal education in the territory.
While less than 50 years old, legal education in Hong Kong has benetted from the heritage of a system
tested and rened over many more years; one that remains intact today in England and Wales. Bearing
in mind this alliance of values, the continuity of the English model for legal education seems likely to
remain into the future. This is not to say legal education in Hong Kong has been frozen in time; rather it
has shown itself to have capacity for self-reection and become intuitive to the needs of the wider com-
munity. The purpose of this article will be to take stock of the development of legal education in Hong
Kong. An historical account of the various reforms to date serves as a timely opportunity to reect upon
the curious lineage of legal education in Hong Kong. By chartings its origins through to its modern day
conguration, it will be possible to further reect upon its relevance to the needs of the territory in the
twenty-rst century.
This article begins by informing our understanding of where the journey began, providing an histori-
cal account of legal education in Hong Kong from humble beginnings in 1969. Hong Kong is unique in
itself having undergone constitutional resettlement in 1997. The article discusses the influence that this
has had upon legal education. It then provides an account of an important juncture in the development
of legal education, following a critical appraisal of a system undertaken by two education experts via a
1 Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Sha Tin, NT, Hong Kong SAR.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
3(2) 144–159
© 2016 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2322005816640333
Corresponding author:
Luke Marsh, Faculty of Law, Room 528, 5/F, Lee Shau Kee Building, The Chinese University of Hong Kong,
Sha Tin, NT, Hong Kong SAR.
Acknowledgments: This article is a modied and updated version of a chapter included in Legal Education in Asia,
Shuvro Prosun Sarker (ed.), Eleven International Publishing, The Hague, Netherlands, 2013.
Marsh and Ramsden 145
far-ranging report, known as Redmond–Roper, itself triggered by an increasingly held perception that
the system was suffering from stagnation.
The extent to which the consultant’s recommendations have been implemented is gauged in the
following section by surveying curriculum developments in the undergraduate programme post-
Redmond–Roper. Special emphasis will be placed on the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree—the pro-
gramme seeing the most reform in recent years—at the three law schools. Conversely, space precludes
examination of the postgraduate Juris Doctor (JD) degree, which also provides a route into the legal
profession for those who have already graduated in another discipline. It will be seen that, in recent
years, legal education has spurred itself along to the tune of the consultants’ report by enhancing the
law curriculum in a way that is more responsive to the needs of both student and legal market.
Yet until now, there has been little substantive appraisal measuring how far legal education reforms
have gone in addressing the needs of Hong Kong’s society and economy.2 Some 10 years following the
publication of Redmond–Roper, an opportunity in this regard now presents itself. A further review of
legal education and training will take place under the auspices of Hong Kong’s Standing Committee on
Legal Education and Training (‘SCLET’). Carried out by three consultants (The Hon. Mr Justice Woo,
Professor Julian Webb and Professor Tony Smith), the ‘Comprehensive Review on Legal Education and
Training in Hong Kong’ (‘Woo Review’) is currently under way and aims to provide a major critical
review of the legal education structures in place in the territory.3 It is hoped that the account of legal
education in Hong Kong presented here can serve in part as a contextual guide for the Woo Review and
other interested stakeholders seeking to ensure a vibrant legal sector flourishes in the future.
The Origins of Hong Kong
The history of modern Hong Kong can be traced to 1842. On 29 August of that year, the First Anglo-
Chinese War—known more popularly in contemporary times as the First Opium War—came to an end
with the Treaty of Nanking, which had China’s ruling Qing court cede Hong Kong Island to British
Whilst until recently, there was no comprehensive review of the institutional response to Redmond–Roper, some scholarship has
attempted to fill this gap by reflecting on various initiatives set up to address the Redmond–Roper concerns. See Michael Ramsden
& Luke Marsh, Using Clinical Education to Innovate the Law Curriculum and Address an Unmet Legal Need: A Hong Kong
Perspective, 63
Journal of legal ed.
(2014); Luke Marsh & Michael Ramsden, Reflections on a High School Mooting
Competition: Bridging the Gap between Secondary and Tertiary Education, 49
The law Teacher.
323 (2015).
3 The Standing Committee has agreed on the following Terms of Reference for conducting its study: (a) To review critically, the
present system of legal education and training in Hong Kong including its strengths and weaknesses, (b) To advise on the
requirements of a legal education and training system which is best capable of meeting the challenges of legal practice and
the needs of Hong Kong’s society, (c) In the light of the findings in (a) and (b) above, to make recommendations, including making
proposals to improve the existing system or introducing an alternative model of legal education and training system, to ensure that
such improved or alternative system is best capable of meeting those challenges and needs, (d) To examine the present curricular
of the various law programmes offered by the three universities and to make recommendations on such curricula to ensure that
those entering the legal profession are best capable of meeting those challenges and needs, (e) To advise on the feasibility of setting
up a mechanism for measuring the quality and standard of legal education and training in Hong Kong so as to ensure that those
entering the legal profession receive the best legal training for the maintenance or improvement of professional standards,
(f) To consider the current arrangements for the pre-qualification vocational training of trainee solicitors and pupils and to advise
on the need (if any) and the way to improve such vocational training. See The Standing Committee on Legal Education and
Training Annual Report 1 (2014), available at (last visited February 12, 2016).

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