CLA News / CLC23 Conference Report by Sharon Tam, YCLA representative for Hong Kong
I truly appreciated the opportunities that the Commonwealth Law Conference (“Conference”) provided for the junior lawyers as we can meet and exchange views amongst ourselves, and equally importantly, with the leading lawyers and judges from different jurisdictions and backgrounds.
The Conference was held in Goa, India, and was a five-day event that brought together legal professionals from all over the Commonwealth. The event was an excellent opportunity for young lawyers to learn from experienced legal professionals, network with other lawyers, and gain insight into the legal issues facing different jurisdictions.
The full-day young lawyers programme on 5th March 2023 was particularly engaging and interactive. The programme was specifically designed for young lawyers to get better prepared for career advancement and future challenges in the legal profession. One of the sessions titled “Ethics in Action” was delivered by Mr. Jerome Lynch KC, and this is an interactive session in which we had to go through a couple of difficult situations and make judgment calls on what to do next.
The session on ethics was particularly thought-provoking. Lawyers face ethical dilemmas every day, and it is essential to understand the professional code of conduct that guides the legal profession. Examples of scenarios discussed in the session include what a lawyer should do when acting for a client and yet is instructed to submit to the court something that appears to be created by the client purely out of his or her own imagination. In the context of prosecution, when a lawyer is aware that the prosecutor fails to submit to the court previous criminal records of a client who is the defendant.
There had been a lively discussion on what the lawyers should or should not do on all these scenarios, and a handful of young lawyers ventured to offer their views (sometimes quite contrary to one another) to and considerations on these dilemmas. The robust debates happening in the room were quite intriguing as after all, we have to admit that at times we could not find a satisfactory answer or perfect solution from the book of professional code of conduct.
Therefore, every lawyer has to draw his or her line on what ought to be done or ought not to be done in these situations, and that there are no moral absolutes. That being said, I trust this session serves an important refresher for all of us as we can take this chance to disassociate from our daily work settings and come together and reflect on what ethics means to us as a lawyer and to what extent our conducts should be, or could be, guided by the professional code.
After this session, I was reminded that we as lawyers are always the “Officers of the Court” and should not do anything which is unbecoming of a lawyer. Professionalism, honesty, and integrity are core values that we should adhere to and remember by heart.
Another session that I found had an impact on me is titled “Judicial education and the use of technology in the courtroom.” The speakers shared insights into how technology is changing the way we practice law, and how the legal profession is adapting to these changes.
The sharing of the speakers reminded me of the COVID era where the courts, law firms and chambers, which were used to be quite reluctant to digitalize the court system, were starting to adopt technologies as soon as possible so as to overcome situations where people are unable to meet face to face. In the post-COVID era, we start to witness more and more jurisdictions have gradually been moving from “paper common law” to “digital common law”.
The speakers in the session also introduced various technologies deployed in respect of the judiciary, which include video-conferencing facilities for hearings, availability of court’s guidelines for preparing electronic bundles in portable document format, online filing systems, e-summoning, case-tracking systems for clients, and others. One of the speakers, a judge from Zambia, showed examples where the use of technology could enhance access to justice for all, and this is not just about efficiency or effectiveness.
On the other hand, some of the speakers also shared a medley of challenges identified in the implementation of “digital common law,” which includes the cost of maintenance of digital systems, the level of reliability of electronic databases, and the inequality that could be created among inexperienced and unsophisticated users of the digital systems.
Nonetheless, I believe that the use of technology in the courtroom is an irreversible trend, and it is the judiciary and the professional bodies’ duty and obligation to promote digitalization of the legal profession and roll out comprehensive and effective education programs to judges, judiciary staff, and legal practitioners to grasp the relevant know-how.
Apart from the above two sessions I attended, the Conference also had a variety of other sessions covering a wide range of legal topics. I attended some of these sessions, including “Trade Laws – Using international sanctions to further political ends,” “Regulation of the profession and COVID emergency measures – Pitfalls and lessons” and “Online media giants may be “too big to care” – But can the law make them care?”. These sessions provided me with a wealth of knowledge and insight into various aspects of the legal profession.
The Conference also provided ample networking opportunities, which allowed me to interact with lawyers and judges from different parts of the world. These interactions helped me to understand the different legal systems and cultures better, and I was able to exchange ideas and best practices with my peers.
In conclusion, the sessions that I attended at the Conference provided me with an excellent opportunity to reflect on what ethics mean to me as a lawyer and the importance of professionalism, honesty, and integrity. Additionally, I gained insight into how technology is transforming the legal profession and its potential to enhance access to justice. These experiences will undoubtedly benefit me as I continue to grow in my career as a lawyer.
YCLA Hong Kong