What actually happens in a court of law during a hearing? A group of students from Marymount Secondary School found out on a visit to the Eastern Magistrates' Court on 6 July, arranged as part of the Chamber's Business School Partnership Programme.
The visit was led by Nicholas Chan, Partner at Squire Patton Boggs. Before the group entered the court, Chan gave students an overview of courtroom etiquette, including not using their phones, and bowing to the front of court when entering or leaving.
The Magistrates' Court tries a wide range of less serious cases, which are heard without a jury. In general, the maximum sentence for these cases is two years' imprisonment and a fine of HK$100,000.
During their visit, the students heard the cases of several minor offences, including theft, common assault, and possession of duty-unpaid cigarettes and dangerous drugs. The students were surprised to see that these straightforward cases can be settled within minutes. They also heard a more complex case where the defendant was accused of conspiracy to defraud, which was transferred to the District Court.
After the court hearings, Chan spoke to the students about the Hong Kong legal system and explained some basic concepts such as the differences between common law and civil law.
He also explained the key differences between barristers, who defend their clients in court, and solicitors, who perform the majority of their work outside the court, such as providing legal advice and drafting legal documents. Since the two professions require different skill sets and qualities, Chan advised that students consider their strengths and personality when considering which path to take. He added that barristers need to have the discipline to manage their own work as most of them are self-employed.
Chan also explained that the rapid development of technology had created new legal issues, and stressed that it is important for lawyers to have multidisciplinary knowledge and to pay attention to changing trends. Although Chan is a lawyer, he has a background in computer science.
He also explained how the legal profession, like so many others, was moving to digital. In Mainland China, for example, the judiciary is increasingly making use of technology.
"With internet courts such as the 'China Mobile Micro Court' on the WeChat app, court proceedings have been able to continue even during the Covid pandemic," Chan explained.
Seven law students who were interning at Squire Patton Boggs also shared their experiences with the visiting BSP students.
Some of the high-school students said they were worried they would not get the grades required to study law at university. However, there are other pathways to a legal career, the interns explained. Students can transfer from other courses, and can also do a law conversion course after graduating in a non-law discipline.
The interns also encouraged the school students to participate in mock trials. This will give them some basic legal knowledge and allow them to get a feel for whether court careers suit them.
One of the interns, Julian Chan, a graduate from the Law School at Durham University, starts his Postgraduate Certificate in Laws this year. In the U.K., Bachelor's degree courses generally take three years to complete. Chan said that the term-time workload was one lecture and around four to five tutorials per week. While this may not seem intense, class time is only one part of the course. and students are expected to do a considerable amount of independent reading, research and study.
The BSP students also learnt that studying law cultivates logical reasoning and critical thinking skills, and will help them develop the ability to analyze issues and propose solutions. So besides preparing students for a legal career, these transferrable skills can also open doors to a diverse range of career possibilities.