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Extension expected for GBA legal pilot program

By Cao Yin in Beijing and Xi Tianqi in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2023-08-29 09:12

A pilot program enabling legal practitioners from the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions to practice in nine cities on the mainland is expected to be extended for another three years, according to a draft decision being mulled by China's top legislature.

The draft decision on prolonging the pilot to Oct 4, 2026, was submitted to an ongoing session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislative body, for review on Monday.

In August 2020, the NPC Standing Committee announced a three-year pilot that legal practitioners from Hong Kong and Macao could become qualified to work in the cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing after passing an exam. All of the cities are in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

The move has been seen as a way to expedite the integration and development of the rule of law in the GBA as well as to expand the role of Hong Kong and Macao professionals, according to Minister of Justice He Rong.

She said on Monday that since the pilot was launched, more than 1,500 legal practitioners from Hong Kong and Macao have taken the exam, and 341 of them have been certified.

While lauding the achievement, she also confirmed some problems were found in the pilot and added that more research and time were needed to resolve them.

She highlighted the necessity of the pilot's extension, explaining that about half of the participants have yet to pass the exam due to the pandemic and unfamiliarity with mainland policies.

"Those qualified haven't been practicing in the cities for long, with few cases. That's why the pilot needs to be further evaluated," she said.

She added that supporting measures on the management of legal practitioners in the GBA should be formulated and promoted.

Alex Fan Hoi-kit, president of Hainan International Arbitration Court and a practicing barrister, was among the first batch of Hong Kong lawyers who have been granted permission to practice in the GBA after having passed the exam.

Fan said the exam is an "unprecedented" arrangement that integrates the two SARs into the overall development of the country and in particular that of the GBA.

The arrangement, hindered by the pandemic, will take time for the legal sector to benefit substantially, as the number of lawyers being granted permission to practice on the mainland is still low, making it far from sufficient to drive the integration in the legal arena, he added.

Expressing his agreement on extending the pilot, he said that the extension would facilitate more Hong Kong lawyers to venture into the GBA legal service market and foster the exchange of legal professionals across the border. It is pivotal in promoting further integration of professional services within the GBA, he said.

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