Research Profile

Professor Chan M M Johannes SC 陳文敏

Professor Chan is the leading authority in constitutional law, administrative law and human rights in Hong Kong.  Notwithstanding that he has been a full time executive Dean for 12 years from 2002-2014, he is the author/editor of over 20 books/monographs and over 250 articles/book chapters/conference papers and presentations.   His works have been cited on numerous occasions by the Hong Kong courts and in academic works.   In a recent judgment, in the context of Professor Chan’s pioneer work on social and economic rights dating back to the early 1990s, Mr Justice Bokhary of the Court of Final Appeal said, “Professor Chan was in the company of Hong Kong’s leading constitutional lawyer, Professor Yash Ghai, when they said two decades ago (in The Hong Kong Bill of Rights: a Comparative Approach (Johannes Chan and Yash Ghai eds) (1993) (Butterworths Asia) at p.5) that “(i)n countries with an established tradition of constitutionalism, the rule of law is acceptable because economic and social rights are woven into the fabric of public law.” And their writings are in the company of, for example, Robert Alexander, The Voice of the People (1997) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) where it is said at p.196 that “human rights...prevent the weakest going to the wall” and John P Humphrey, Human Rights and the United Nations (1984) (Transnational Publishers) where it is said at p.2 that “[h]uman rights without social and economic rights have little meaning for most people”. (Kong Yunming v Director of Social Welfare (2013) 16 HKCFAR 960 at 1004, para 167).  In another recent case of Koon Ping Leung v Director of Lands [2012] 2 HKC 329 at 339, Lam J (as he then was; now Vice-President of the Court of Appeal) described Professor Chan’s argument that not all rights of an indigenous inhabitant fall within the protected rights under the Basic Law as “persuasive”, to which the Applicant in that case, confronted with Professor Chan’s analysis, could not seriously dispute (further endorsed by the Court of First Instance in Secretary for Justice v Liu Wing Kwong [2014] 2 HKLRD 155 at 189.)

In recent years, almost all of his publications are by invitation, and he has published with distinguished publishers such as Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, University of Pennsylvania Press, Hong Kong University Press, and his works appear in top-ranked journals such as International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Singapore Academy of Law Journal, and Human Rights Law Journal.  His latest work, Law of the Hong Kong Constitution, is a seminal work on the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which is soon recognized as the leading work on this area as soon as it is published.  Not only is he the editor and contributor to 7 chapters of the book, Professor Chan conceived the entire structure and content of the book from the very beginning and carried it through by inviting other contributors.  As soon as he stepped down from the Deanship, he was invited to re-write the two volumes of the prestigious Halsbury’s Laws of Hong Kong on Constitutional Law and Human Rights.

Professor Chan is also a regular speaker in international conferences and fora.  He is invited to give a keynote speech in the prestigious 4th East Asian Law and Society Conference in Tokyo in August 2015.  He is the founding editor of Hong Kong Public Law Reports, the first set of private law reports on public law in Hong Kong.  His work was so successful that the Law Reports were acquired by a commercial publisher, and they are now in volume 18.  Professor Chan is one of the few academics in Hong Kong who is the editor of all main law reports in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Law Reports and Digest, Hong Kong Cases, Hong Kong Public Law Reports).

His international reputation is further witnessed by his visiting professorship.  He is Herbert Smith Freehill Visiting Professor of University of Cambridge, Visiting Professor of University College London, and BOK Visiting International Professor at University of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.  He was on the international team of reviewers in reviewing the Law School of Taiwan National University, and the Chief External Examiner of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.  He is also a regular assessor for GRF grants in Hong Kong and various grants applications, both in Hong Kong and Asia, including being an assessor of the prestigious Cheung Kong Scholars in Mainland China.

Another major contribution of Professor Chan is his publications in Chinese.  Until 1989, English was the only official language for laws in Hong Kong.  With the imminent change of sovereignty under which Hong Kong is to develop a bilingual legal system, there was a dearth of Chinese legal materials in Hong Kong.  He is one of the pioneers in publishing high quality legal works in Chinese when Chinese legal literature was practically non-existent, and his writings, together with his contemporaries like Professor Albert Chen, play a key and significant role in promoting and developing a bilingual legal system in Hong Kong. 

Another of Professor Chan’s contribution is that, as a barrister, he is able to extend the frontiers of the law through his advocacy work, thus combining the best of the two worlds of academia and practitioners.  He is the leading counsel in many cases of seminal importance (eg, the right to legal representation in disciplinary matters; the right to social welfare, costs in public interest litigation, legal professional privileges etc).  Very few academics have that privilege of being able to turn what they think ought to be the law to become what the law is.   As a result, he is able to give a practical dimension in both his academic writings and teaching.  In recognition of his immense contribution to the legal system through his research and writing and his advocacy in courts, he was conferred the distinction of being the first (and still the only one) Honourary Senior Counsel in Hong Kong.

A final remark on his research contribution is that it has to be taken in the context of his being one of the most successful Deans of the Faculty of Law in recent years.  He has led the Faculty through various difficult periods, and transformed the Faculty from a local teaching school to one of the best international law schools in the world during his 12 years of Deanship.  During this time, he has actively promoted and nurtured young talents, created opportunities for colleagues, and brought colleagues together in major research projects.  The Law of the Hong Kong Constitution is one such example where he is able to bring in all the expertise in the Faculty in public law to contribute to a seminal volume.   While he is unable to supervise many postgraduate students, he has expanded significantly the RPG programme (from a few PhD students in the Faculty in 2002 to about 100 PhD students now in the Faculty).  Despite his heavy administrative duties, he still supervised many LLM papers (as he still teaches a postgraduate seminar in Human Rights).   He has also changed the culture of the Faculty in terms of research grants applications, as traditionally most legal research does not require extensive research grants support and thus resulting in a relatively low number of grants applications from the Faculty).  This has changed quite dramatically in recent years with a steady increase in the number of applications and successful cases.  Professor Chan himself was a holder of a number of GRF/RGC grants which he had successfully completed, although in recent years he has no shortage of private funding support for his research work. 

He is also generous in sharing his expertise with the community at large, now recognized as knowledge exchange.  He has a long record of participating extensively in community work and public services, and is a regular and influential commentator on public affairs, thus contributing his expertise to the well being of the community.  Since 2003, he has been writing a weekly column in Ming Pao, a leading Chinese newspaper, on law and politics, and his views are closely followed by the Government, policymakers and the media.

The following pages set out in details Professor Chan’s list of publications, his editorship, conference papers and presentation, reports and other publications, and his research grants.

Click here to download his publications.