31 March 2021
On 26 March, the Government of the People’s Republic of China announced sanctions against a number of British individuals and entities. Most publicity has been attracted by the inclusion of well-known politicians on the list. But the most sinister inclusion may be “Essex Court Chambers”. Whereas the sanctioning of a politician, who is unlikely to own property in China, is a largely symbolic gesture, the announcement in respect of the set of barrister’s chambers strikes at the heart of the English legal system and the services offered by English lawyers. It also has serious ramifications for all commercial transactions relating to China.
The decision against Essex Court Chambers is understood to be related to the fact that four individual members of those Chambers had together written an opinion concerning the treatment of the Uighur population in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. It appears that that legal opinion was written pursuant to instructions received from the Global Legal Action Network. Each of the four barristers was thus providing independent legal advice for a client pursuant to their professional obligations and qualifications as members of the Bar of England and Wales subject to the regulatory supervision of the Bar Standards Board. According to the chambers’ website, my source for this material, none of those four barristers published that legal opinion.
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