Ms Winnie Tam Wan Chi
Honorary University Fellow (2017)
When Ms Winnie Tam graduated from the Faculty of Law of The University of Hong Kong (HKU) in 1983, her goal was to become a barrister. During her pupillage, she impressed her masters with her strong linguistic and analytical competencies. After qualifying as a barrister, she soon found herself ensconced as a member of a reputable barristers’ chambers. Yet, opting to take the road less travelled, the adventurous Ms Tam surprised her peers by making a bold decision two years later — giving up her coveted seat in chambers to go to England to work with three leading barristers in intellectual property law while simultaneously pursuing the Master of Laws programme at the University College London.
Ms Tam’s interest in intellectual property law sprang from her passion for music. With a sweet voice, she won numerous singing awards and a scholarship for vocal training when she was a student at St. Paul’s Co-educational College. Also a good piano player, she was made the conductor of the school choir. She did so well in that role that when she entered HKU, she was asked to pick up the baton of the university student choir, as well as the Law Faculty and Swire Hall Choirs. The Law Faculty Anthem and the Swire Hall Song currently still in use were amongst Ms. Tam’s music compositions from her student days. As a law student, she was already writing papers on protecting the intellectual property rights in musical works and performance.
In 1988, a major legal battle over a patent dispute that had been on-going in Britain extended to Hong Kong. At the expense of not taking the final examination that would have earned her the master’s degree, Ms Tam took the decisive step of returning to her home town to accept instructions to appear in the case. Her professional performance on this case established her position as budding advocate in intellectual property law. As her practice grew, she has appeared in many cases involving disputes in music, film, advertising, graphic and industrial design and engineering. In 2006, Ms Tam’s standing in the legal profession was recognised in the highest manner by her appointment as a Senior Counsel.
Between 2015 and 2016, Ms Tam was elected Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association. Under her leadership, the Association articulated the concerns of its members over a range of issues related to the rule of law, including the detention of scores of mainland legal professionals by the mainland authorities, the legal status of the Chief Executive under the constitutional framework of the Basic Law, the disappearance from Hong Kong of book publisher Lee Po under mysterious circumstances and the interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in relation to the taking of oath by several Legislative Councillors.
Ms Tam feels that the key to resolving conflicts, whether legal or non-legal, lies in understanding the other side. On relieving the tensions that strain relations between Hong Kong and the mainland, she says we need to better understand the mainland’s history, politics and power structure to appreciate its concerns over the city. This does not mean we have to agree with all of the mainland’s policies. But our honest opinion on what is best for Hong Kong and the country would be more likely to be heeded if the mainland knew that we could see things from different angles, she says.
Having reached the pinnacle of her profession, Ms Tam is a member of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission responsible for nominating judges. In 2015, she was appointed a Recorder of the Court of First Instance, in which capacity she has been adjudicating a wide range of civil and commercial cases. She is also a member of the Tourism Board, the Advisory Committee on Corruption of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Board, and the Board of Trustees of The Hong Kong Jockey Club Music and Dance Fund as well as the Vice-Chairman of the Lin Yao Ji Music Foundation of China.
Between 2011 and 2016, HKBU was fortunate to have the wise counsel of Ms Tam when she was a member of the Council and the Court. During that period, she was Deputy Chairman of the Personnel Committee and a member of the Audit Committee of the Council. In 2014 and 2015, Ms Tam was a member of the Search Committee for the President and Vice-Chancellor of HKBU. During her tenure of service at the University, Ms Tam’s professional advice contributed tremendously to the growth of HKBU as it strives to become a leading university in the world. Although she has stepped down from the Council and the Court, Ms Tam remains a School Manager of the HKBU Affiliated School Wong Kam Fai Secondary and Primary School.