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UK and Ireland bar associations team up to condemn China's sanctions on Essex Court Chambers

UK and Ireland bar associations team up to condemn China's sanctions on Essex Court Chambers

The four professional bodies of barristers and advocates of the United Kingdom and Ireland have issued a joint condemnation of the sanctions announced by the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against barrister members of the legal profession and their "immediate families". The barristers and their immediate family members are prohibited from entering mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao, their property in China will be frozen, and Chinese citizens and institutions will be prohibited from doing business with them.

The sanctions were imposed on the Essex Court barristers, the top London commercial set of chambers in March in response to a legal opinion written by four barristers for lay clients said there was ‘a credible case´ acts carried out by the Chinese government in Xinjiang against the Uyghur population amounted to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide.

In a joint statement, the Bar Council of England & Wales, the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, and the Bar of Ireland declared that the imposition of sanctions on lawyers for providing a legal opinion "clearly contravenes the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers which state (at para 18) that 'lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions".The statement continued: "The naming in the sanctions of a barristers’ chambers, which comprises some 95 other barristers who practice from the same premises but as independent legal practitioners, is a further indiscriminate attack on legal professionals. It is inconsistent with respect for the rule of law.

The Chinese state, as well as Chinese citizens and their businesses, benefit as much as anyone from a functioning international legal order. We call on the PRC Government to review these sanctions, which call into question its commitment to the rule of law, as well as its status and reputation as a reliable partner in international trade and commerce.

The statement follows fierce criticism of the sanctions by the International Bar Association in the immediate aftermath of the unveiling of the sanctions. “When the rule of law and human rights are under threat in any part of the world each one of us has the duty to speak out,” International Bar Association president Sternford Moyo said. “Sanctions have been imposed by China on those who have done just that. “We, therefore, call upon national and international Bar associations to condemn the imposition of these sanctions as an unjustifiable interference with the professional role of lawyers and an attack upon the rule of law internationally.” 

The Bars added that measures that targeted lawyers complying with their professional obligations, simply because their work attracted the disapproval of the Chinese government, were also a threat to the global legal community.

Mr. Mansfield, who is now Lord Sandhurst QC, said earlier this month: “Essex Court Chambers cannot be left isolated. It would be intolerable if other chambers or law firms simply took overwork which is transferred away from Essex Court. Urgent thought must be given to special codes of conduct to prevent that.”

Separately, Paul Harris SC, chair of the Hong Kong Bar Association, made a statement at the meeting of the Bar Council on Saturday which he said was restricted by the recent national security laws passed by China. He told members that 95-99% of the Hong Kong legal system was operating as well as it has ever had and was still the best chance of a fair trial in Asia. The presence of judges from the UK, Australia, and Canada in the higher courts was key to this, and that it would be “utterly damaging” if those judges no longer sat.

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