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07 April 2021

Arbitration QC exits sanctions-hit Essex Court Chambers as new Singapore venture is approved

Toby Landau QC severs London ties and transfers to newly formed Duxton Hill Chambers with five colleagues in Singapore

By Ben Rigby

Essex Court Chambers is located in Lincoln's Inn Fields Shutterstock

Leading arbitration silk Toby Landau QC has left Essex Court Chambers, becoming the second tenant with strong Asia links to vacate the top London commercial set after it was hit with sanctions by the Chinese government.

Landau departed Essex Court last Friday and will now practice as a sole practitioner in London while also joining the newly-founded Duxton Hill Chambers in Singapore alongside the five other former tenants of Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice), the independent Singapore practice that was affiliated with Essex Court Chambers in London. 

The lawyers, who are led by former attorney-general VK Rajah SC, announced their decision to leave Essex Court Chambers Duxton in the aftermath of the sanctions, which were imposed on Essex Court on 26 March, apparently over the writing of a legal opinion by four of its tenants on China's treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang.

Their new venture has now received regulatory approval from the Singapore authorities. Duxton Hill Chambers said the new Singapore set would work ‘across the full spectrum of commercial, corporate and financial law, including banking and finance, civil fraud, chancery and offshore work', whether individually or as part of a team, on both advisory and adversarial instructions. The set stressed that it was not a law firm, but would follow a chambers model comprised of individual independent practitioners. 

Duxton Hill will compete with Singapore’s larger law firms and UK, Australian and New Zealand sets for advocacy in the increasingly competitive Asian disputes market, for which Singapore is a recognised regional hub in both commercial litigation and arbitration. 

In a statement, his former London set said Landau ‘was a valued member of Essex Court Chambers and leaves with full support and thanks for the immeasurable contribution he has made’. Landau is the second silk with Asian links to leave the London set following the sanctions, with Jern-Fei Ng QC joining 7 Bedford Row

One law firm source said that Landau was ‘exceptionally able’, as the silk was ‘internationally recognised, [and] someone who stood out [at Essex Court] for his work as both arbitrator and counsel’.

The move will be welcomed by Asian clients, the source said, adding that Landau’s presence at Duxton Hill reaffirmed his commitment to Singapore as a jurisdiction, which would be viewed positively. 

Essex Court was one of four UK entities and nine individuals named last month on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ sanctions list, which was released in retaliation to sanctions imposed by the UK government on China for human rights abuses against the Uighurs. 

In February, four members of Essex Court wrote a legal opinion commissioned by The Global Legal Action Network, which said there was ‘a credible case´ that acts carried out by China in Xinjiang ‘amounted to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide’. 

Essex Court has pointed out the the tenants were providing independent legal advice and that the chambers has 'no collective or distinct legal identity of any kind'.

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