Dennis W.H. Kwok
Dennis Kwok was a founding member of the Civic Party in Hong Kong. Formed in 2006, Civic Party was one of the key political parties in Hong Kong that championed for the protection of the rule of law, greater democracy and human rights.
In 2012, Kwok was elected as the member of the Legislative Council (LegCo) representing the Hong Kong legal profession. The legislature in Hong Kong is divided into geographical seats and functional seats. Each member of the legal profession has one vote and is entitled to elect their representative in LegCo. Kwok succeeded veteran lawmaker Dr. Margaret Ng who held the LegCo legal seat for 16 years. Previous occupant of the legal seat includes Mr. Martin Lee, S.C., father of the democratic movement in Hong Kong. In 2016, Kwok was re-elected for a second four-year term with a 69% majority of votes from the legal profession.
The main policy areas that Kwok has focused on include access to justice, human rights protection and the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong. Protecting the independence of the judiciary, as well as its effectiveness and quality, was a priority for Kwok’s work in LegCo. As Deputy Chairman of the LegCo Panel on the Administration of Justice, Kwok oversaw the development of legal policy issues including the independence of prosecution decisions, the development of the legal profession and legal education. He campaigned for the expansion of the legal aid system to provide the Hong Kong population with more access to civil justice, many for whom exorbitant legal costs had been a barrier. He also served on the board of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, which provided a support network to human rights lawyers in the People’s Republic of China.
Apart from legal policy issues, Kwok pushed for more resources and better policies for children with special educational needs (SEN). He co-sponsored a private members’ bill with the Hon. Fernando Cheung seeking to provide better teaching facilities and support for children with SEN across all public schools in Hong Kong. The objective of the Bill was to legislate for the requirement of individual education plans for each SEN child, allocating resources for a SEN co-ordinator at each school, and setting minimum legal standards that public schools must meet. The SEN co-ordinator scheme was set up in 2015, and the definition of SEN has since been widened to include general mental health of students. There has also been a significant increase in the number of educational psychologists and speech therapists allocated to public schools in Hong Kong.
Kwok led the campaign in combatting international human trafficking, and better protection and fairer treatment for refugees in Hong Kong. Approximately 62% of the global population of modern slavery victims is located in the Asia Pacific region. Together with the Hon. Kenneth Leung, Kwok co-sponsored a private members’ bill to combat international human trafficking and modern slavery. Modeled on the Modern Slavery Act of the United Kingdom, the Bill also contained legal provisions to enhance anti-money laundering regulations to freeze illicit proceeds generated by the modern slave trade. In addition, Kwok and others lobbied The Hong Kong Stock Exchange to enhance their ESG disclosure requirements. New rules were implemented to require listed companies to examine their supply chains to ensure there are no forced or unfair labour practices. These changes to the HKEx listing rules came into effect on 1 July 2020. In April 2019, Kwok was invited by the ‘Liechtenstein Initiative – For a Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking’ (an initiative partnered with the governments of Liechtenstein, Netherlands and Australia) to attend and share his experience at their meeting held in Sydney.
During his time in office, Kwok was actively engaged in international advocacy work for Hong Kong’s democratic movement. He frequently travelled to the United States and Europe to advocate for Hong Kong and its democratic cause, presenting these issues to the international community including government officials, politicians and NGOs. He was one of the principal advocates against the 2019 extradition bill proposed by the Hong Kong government. He accepted numerous speaking engagements outside Hong Kong to discuss geopolitical issues related to the region. These speaking engagements included the Asia Society, New York City Bar and the Council on Foreign Relations (New York), the United Nations Business and Human Rights Forum (Geneva), an European Parliament subcommittee (Brussels), German Marshal Fund, Georgetown University and the Heritage Foundation (Washington DC), Venstre (Norway), the Stockholm Free World Forum (Sweden) and the Lowy Institute (Australia).
Kwok's current research focuses on the legal and political risks emerging from China from the perspectives of international business and NGOs. In his private legal practice, Kwok specializes in cross-border commercial disputes and international arbitration. He obtained his LLB from King’s College London. He qualified as a solicitor in England & Wales (2003) and as a barrister in Hong Kong (2006). Apart from this current position with Ash Centre, he is a Distinguished Scholar at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He has also been appointed as a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo. Kwok is the recipient of the 2021 Commonwealth Law Conference Rule of Law Award bestowed by the Commonwealth Lawyers Association.