The middle man

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Of all the portfolios in the Hong Kong government, Secretary for Justice is arguably the toughest. John Church talks with incumbent Rimsky Yuen about his work, visions, and building bridges between two very different legal systems

As head of the Justice Department, the Secretary oversees 1,000-plus employees on prosecutions, civil law, legal policy and law drafting, among other things. As the top law enforcement official, the position is a principal official of the Hong Kong government, charged with the universally monitored task of upholding the rule of law. And as chief legal adviser to the SAR administration in an increasingly polarised Hong Kong political landscape, the Secretary shoulders a mountain that, to steal the words of one philosopher, would make Atlas shrug.

Enter Rimsky Yuen SC, the third Secretary since Hong Kong’s return to China, in the footsteps of predecessors Wong Yan-lung and Elsie Leung, the former keeping a low profile and the latter commanding almost a stage of her own during their respective tenures. Yuen, it could be said, is a curious mixture of both. Educated in Hong Kong’s best universities, yet from a humble working class background, he has the hallmarks of a high achiever. He was called to the Hong Kong Bar in 1987 and later became chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association.

A lawyer’s lawyer, his sense of justice is obvious, as is a sharp intellect tethered behind a pair of steel-framed spectacles and a poker face that gives very little away, unless he wishes. Underestimating Rimsky Yuen would be inadvisable, as would oversimplifying the role he is playing in building the channels of communication necessary for the legal systems of Hong Kong and mainland China to relate to each other.

China Business Law Journal caught up with the Secretary just over a year into his tenure to talk about key legal developments on commercial matters between Hong Kong and the mainland, the differences that remain between the two jurisdictions, and his own priorities in the job.

The middle man

His first year was a baptism by fire, one might say, with right of abode issues and a certain extradition furore with the US dominating headlines at home and around the world, so we asked him what he believes his toughest challenge has been so far.

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