Shakespeare and the Umbrella Revolution
People who decry the role and influence of lawyers in our society have little trouble finding like-minded souls with whom they can commiserate. Their rallying cry too often is Dick the Butcher's admonition in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." And so, it is hardly shocking that, according to the Wall Street Journal, one of the best-selling coffee mugs at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's gift shop in Washington, D.C. bears this tag line.

Although scholars debate the meaning and context of this line, many agree with Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who stated in a 1985 opinion that "As a careful reading of that text will reveal, Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government."

Current events support the Bard's wisdom, and show yet again how lawyers are the vanguard of a democratic society that respects individual rights and liberties.
On June 10, 2014, China's cabinet, known as the State Council, issued a "white paper" on the practice of the "one country, two systems" policy in Hong Kong, the purpose of which is to "realize the peaceful reunification" of Hong Kong with mainland China. The white paper proclaimed that all Hong Kong administrators, including "judges of the courts at different levels and other judicial personnel," must meet the political requirements of "loving the country." This was seen by many in Hong Kong as an effort to rein in the independence of the judiciary.
The next day, the Hong Kong Bar Association issued a press release objecting to the white paper, stating that members of the Hong Kong judiciary are not to be regarded as part of 'Hong Kong's administrators' or part of the governance team upon whom a political requirement is imposed. Any erroneous public categorization of Judges and judicial officers as 'administrators' or official exhortation for them to carry out any political mission or task will send the wrong message to the people of Hong Kong, people on the Mainland and the wider international community that Courts here are part of the machinery of the Government and sing with it.
On June 27, 2014, hundreds of lawyers, including eight former heads of the Hong Kong Bar Association, marched from Hong Kong's High Court to the Court of Final Appeal in protest over this effort, demanding that this patriotism requirement be stricken. An organizer of the march explained to the New York Times that "[w]e want to tell the central people's government and the international community that we would never compromise on Hong Kong's legal system and the rule of law."
In what some might regard as a contrast in focus, the Big Four accounting firms that same day placed a joint advertisement in Hong Kong newspapers, warning that plans for a mass sit-in demonstration in late September in Hong Kong's business district, known as Central, would hurt business: "We worry that multinational companies and investors might consider moving their regional headquarters from Hong Kong, or even remove their businesses, in the long term shaking Hong Kong from its position as an international financial and commercial center."
The planned sit-in demonstration, known as Occupy Central With Love & Peace, was led by a Hong Kong University law professor. Its purpose was to peacefully protest and demonstrate against efforts to extend mainland China's control over Hong Kong through election procedures preventing Hong Kong residents from nominating and directly electing their chief executive.
On September 28, 2014, thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered in Central for the planned demonstration. The demonstration was not well received, as police responded by attempting to disperse the crowds with pepper spray and tear gas. Demonstrators attempted to shield themselves from this chemical onslaught with umbrellas, leading some to dub the protests the "Umbrella Revolution."
Once again, the Hong Kong Bar Association chose not to remain silent, issuing a press release on September 29 that "deplore[d] and condemn[ed] the excessive and disproportionate use of force by the Hong Kong Police" against unarmed demonstrators. The release went on to state "that there was plainly no justification to commence the use of CS [tear] gas against peaceful demonstrators, let alone repeated, systemic, indiscriminate and excessive use of CS gas."
As the world watches these event unfold, we can all hope that the protests will remain peaceful and will accomplish the goal of retaining basic democratic rights. As lawyers, we can take pride in being members of a profession whose focus is not limited to the preservation of economic interests, but instead takes risks to preserve and promote individual liberties and the rule of law. The Hong Kong Bar Association serves as a shining example to the world of what a bar association can and should be.

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