Essex Court Chambers Duxton's 6 lawyers leave to form new practice
Former attorney-general V. K. Rajah is among those who are leaving Essex Court Chambers Duxton.
All six lawyers at Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Practice Group) will be leaving in the wake of international sanctions imposed by the Chinese government on its London law namesake, Essex Court Chambers.
This comes after four lawyers of the UK group wrote a legal opinion in January, commissioned by The Global Legal Action Network, a non-profit organisation, concerning the treatment of the Uighur population in China's Xinjiang province. The legal opinion drew significant international media publicity.
Yesterday, the six Singapore members announced their departure from the Duxton Hill office. They include Senior Counsel V.K. Rajah, Queen's Counsel Toby Landau and Senior Counsel Chan Leng Sun. Also leaving are Mr Colin Liew, Mr Tham Lijing and Mr Calvin Liang.
All six will be forming a new group practice, pending regulatory approval, the group said.
Neither the Essex Court Chambers in London nor the Singapore outfit are law firms.
The Singapore group operates separately and is independent of the London group.
The six lawyers, like their UK counterparts, are neither partners nor employees of the group practice but are instead self-employed practitioners. As such, the Singapore practice gave an assurance that "all existing matters will not be affected".
Beijing imposed retaliatory sanctions against London's Essex Court Chambers and three other entities, including the Uighur Tribunal, as well as senior British politicians last Friday. It accused the United Kingdom of "maliciously spreading lies and disinformation" about its Xinjiang region.
China-based assets of the sanctioned entities are frozen. The sanctions are also understood to mean no Chinese businesses or individuals are allowed to engage the entity named for their work.
International legal and arbitration work in China has grown increasingly important to Singapore lawyers. For example, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre's 2019 report showed that Chinese parties were in the top three users list for new cases in 2019. Similar statistics can be expected in the upcoming 2020 report.
SC Rajah, speaking in his personal capacity, said: "I am deeply disappointed by this turn of events. The legal opinion published was based on contentious accounts and must be balanced against Chinese explanations and their concerns about terrorism.
"Indeed, the reputed journal Foreign Policy very recently reported that the US State Department lawyers have concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove genocide against the Uighur community in China," he added.
The Foreign Policy article said "wielding the g-word without a solid legal basis also carries the risk of politicising and eroding the power of the designation, which has been invoked in the past century to describe the worst episodes of past killing".
Besides SC Rajah, QC Landau and SC Chan, the three others leaving with them are also outstanding lawyers seen as rising stars in the profession.
Both Mr Liew and Mr Tham graduated with first-class honours from the University of Oxford. Mr Liew was top of his cohort and won numerous academic prizes. He subsequently served as a justices' law clerk in the Supreme Court of Singapore.
Mr Tham has been described as a lawyer's lawyer, with a reputation of giving fresh insights to difficult problems.
Mr Liang graduated with a first-class honours degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and previously served as a justices' law clerk and assistant registrar in the Supreme Court of Singapore.
Duxton's law heavyweights
• SENIOR COUNSEL V.K. RAJAH served as attorney-general from 2014 to 2017, and as a judge of appeal of the Supreme Court from 2007 to 2014. He joined the Bench as judicial commissioner in 2004 before being appointed a judge.
While on the Bench, he wrote more than 200 reported judgments within a decade, some of which have been wholly reported in international law reports, including the Law Reports of the Commonwealth, All England Law Reports (Commercial), Lloyd's Law Reports and the Building Law Reports.
• MR TOBY LANDAU, a prominent English lawyer, became the first Queen's Counsel to be admitted to the Singapore Bar in 2017, in what High Court Justice Quentin Loh described as a "historic occasion in the legal history of Singapore".
English QCs are an elite group of eminent lawyers appointed by the Queen based on merit, and are largely made up of barristers.
Prior to 2017, QC Landau was admitted on an ad hoc basis to argue in the high-stakes Astro v First Media and Lippo litigation before both the Singapore High Court and Court of Appeal, among other matters.
He also represented Singapore alongside local lawyers and was part of the team that represented Singapore in the Railway Land Arbitration against Malaysia in 2014.
• SC CHAN LENG SUN is also deputy chairman of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and a member of the International Chamber of Commerce's Commission on Arbitration and ADR (alternative dispute resolution). He has acted as counsel or sat as arbitrator in various arbitration cases seated in Singapore, China and London, among other places.
A former lecturer at NUS Law school, he also started the arbitration course at the Singapore Management University School of Law.
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.