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China bans magic circle chambers over alleged human rights ‘disinformation’

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Country accuses London’s Essex Court Chambers of spreading ‘lies’ about treatment of Uighur Muslims

The Chinese government has imposed a series of sanctions on a leading London barristers’ chambers for allegedly spreading “lies and disinformation” about the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.

The sanctions appear to be in retaliation to the UK government’s decision earlier this week to take action against a number of Chinese officials in response to alleged human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims.

Magic circle super-set Essex Court Chambers is one of four UK ‘entities’ to be hit with sanctions this morning by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, alongside nine individuals including human rights specialist Baroness Kennedy QC and Sir Geoffrey Nice QC.

Sir Geoffrey, chair of the Uighur Tribunal, which is investigating alleged human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims, said:

“The sanctions imposed by the PRC [People’s Republic of China] will not affect the work of the Tribunal and will not be held against the PRC by The Tribunal in reaching an independent judgment on the information provided to the Tribunal by any group, state, or individual that wishes to engage. We continue to hope that the PRC will respond to our invitations to cooperate with the Tribunal and provide evidence to help the Tribunal in its work.”

Back in February four members of Essex Court Chambers — Alison Macdonald QC, Jackie McArthur, Naomi Hart and Lorraine Aboagye — penned a legal opinion which found there to be a “very credible case” that the Chinese government is carrying out the crime of genocide against the Uighur people in Xinjiang. China dismisses all claims of abuses in the region.

Groups and individuals named on today’s will are banned from entering China, including Hong Kong and Macau, while Chinese citizens and institutions are also prevented from doing business with them. Any assets they have in China will be frozen, too, according to the announcement.

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Responding to the sanctions imposed on Essex Court Chambers, Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, which represents all barristers in England and Wales, said:

“The Bar Council strongly condemns any threat against members of the bar simply for doing their job. Sanctioning a chambers or any legal organisation because a member has given a legal opinion in accordance with their professional obligations is an attack on the rule of law.”

Meanwhile, Robert Buckland, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, tweeted that “chambers isn’t responsible for an opinion by one of its members”, adding that “a lawyer shouldn’t be identified with the acts or views of the client, & the rule of law requires lawyers to be able to advise clients and give legal opinions without [foreign] governmental interference”.

Other individuals named on the list include MPs Iain Duncan Smith, Tom Tugendhat, Nus Ghani, Neil O’Brien and Tim Loughton, all of whom have spoken out at the alleged mistreatment of Uighur Muslims by China.

Essex Court Chambers has been approached for comment.

Update: 4:26pm

Essex Court Chambers has now issued the following statement:

“The members of Essex Court Chambers were made aware earlier today that the Government of the People’s Republic of China has placed “Essex Court Chambers” on a list of persons or entities subject to international sanctions. This decision is understood to be related to the fact that four members of chambers wrote a legal opinion dated 8 February 2021 concerning the treatment of the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (“Legal Opinion”).”

“The Legal Opinion was written by the four members of chambers concerned pursuant to instructions received from Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) in association with the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP). In writing that opinion, each of these four individuals was providing independent legal advice in accordance with their professional obligations and qualifications as members of the Bar of England and Wales subject to regulatory supervision by the Bar Standards Board. The Legal Opinion received significant publicity in international media following its publication last month. None of the four relevant members of chambers published the Legal Opinion.”

“Essex Court Chambers is not a law firm and has no collective or distinct legal identity of any kind. Members of chambers are self-employed sole practitioners each regulated in their own capacity as separate individuals by the Bar Standards Board. Members of Chambers are commonly retained by opposing sides in the same dispute, both in litigation and arbitration, with protocols in place to safeguard confidentiality. No other member of Essex Court Chambers was involved in or responsible for the advice and analysis contained in the Legal Opinion or its publication.”

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26 Comments

Annolyonlyolnnn

I’m sure the good members of Essex Court will be crying all weekend from their Cornwall second homes at the thought of not being able to see the lounge at PEK.

Curious

How much do juniors earn there?

Anon

£5.38ph plus toilet breaks.

ESJ

Badge of honour as far as I’m concerned

Anonymous

Shame they then undid the kudos with the PR release that basically said The human rights opinion had nothing to do with our commercial practitioners and arbitrators who would love to still work for Chinese clients and come to Hong Kong

(122)(92)

Anonyme

No, they were just refuting the fallacious and frankly embarrassingly ill-informed assertion from the PRC that a barristers chambers is some kind of legal entity in itself.

Anonymous

They could not distance themselves from their colleagues fast enough while pointing out the legal technicalities. And the article about the Uighur work came off the website pretty quickly too. I don’t think telling immigration at Hong Kong that Beijing’s notice was “fallacious and frankly embarrassingly ill-informed assertion” would get very far would it? About as far as a holding cell until the next flight home, if they were lucky.

(107)(91)

Anon

You can bet some crackers members are up in arms at the actions of their colleagues.

Anonyme

Lmao these downvotes are making no sense.

Just as it seems someone’s refreshing to downvote me, they’re also downvoting the other side?

What’s the bad side here, then? Struggling to understand whether the LC comments section is “woke” or not.

Anon

It think the Chinese state actor assigned to vote on this was confused overnight as to what side to vote on.

1anonymous

Yep, pretty pathetic from Essex Court! Basically shown it lacks the backbone to standup for what’s right and thrown it’s own members under the bus

Hmmmm

Are you honestly surprised that barristers would do such things to each other…?

Nicolas Lerouy

Still shameful that Essex Court took down the article from their website. The mafia dons at the PCC are coming for us – all of us. They have the Chinese people in control and now want everyone else. Lawyers, of all people, must confront them and speak up.

(121)(95)

FCCCP

Anyone notice that there’s a worrying trend of academics and businesses either being silenced or actively peddling mistruths in order to curry favour with China? Stories like this need more coverage.

Stand against the CCP

Who are these people downvoting anti China comments? Seriously, same thing happens on the FT website etc. Chinese trolls trying to make people think there isn’t bros based support against China? Well guess what the public opinion surveys show us people are waking up to what China is doing.

Why

Shameful statement from Essex Court Chambers. Rather than back their members they are distancing themselves.

I assume there’s a lot of top dollar work in Hong Kong at stake here?

Him wot knows stuff

About time we stopped importing bloody everything from there and started supporting manufacturing elsewhere in the world (including in the UK).

Did you know you can still buy a electronics such as TVs, tablets and laptops made in the UK (google Ferguson TVs and Cello electronics) but the major retailers don’t stock them because the profit margins are far smaller than stuff imported from China- you have to buy them direct from the manufacturer.

Chairman Mouse

The Chinese government did not like your post and demands that it be removed immediately.

Scouser of Counsel

I second that. Western made products still exist. They’re usually either a little more expensive than mainstream brands (but of comparable or better quality) or hard to find because “middleman” retailers won’t stock them because they can’t profit to the same extent.

I have a Ferguson Smart Telly “Made in the UK” and it’s great!

Anonymous

When it mattered, Chinese fee income streams was clearly more imprortant than human rights. Loved how they threw the international law team under the bus: “No other member of Essex Court Chambers was involved in or responsible for the advice and analysis contained in the Legal Opinion or its publication.”

Self-Serving

It’s awful, isn’t it?

Don’t worry though – they’ll mention twenty times on Twitter how they once gave £50 out of their £900,000 a year billings to ‘Save the Children’ and we can all clap.

Anonymous from fear of the CCP

China is trying to bully us all into submission. It’s really sad that a legal outfit won’t stand up against genocide. If we don’t start standing up to China now we will all be Chamberlains in the face of the fascist threat of our generation.

Anon

I pity the children being brought up by apologist clowns

Solicitor who solicits

“None of the four relevant members of chambers published the Legal Opinion.” Except the Chamber published the article on its website only to remove it later after the Chinese sanctions. Talking about being spineless. If you are going to do something at least admit it.

Yoo Fon Giwtee

I trust Chamber will give full and immediate apologies to Chinese government and people?

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