Davis Polk draws fire for speaking at event to mark anniversary of Hong Kong's national security law

Wall Street firm 'denounced' over Asia chair's billing to speak at department of justice conference, Financial Times reports
The Court of Final Appeal Building also known as the Old Supreme Court Building in Hong Kong. Formerly housed the Supreme Court and the Legislative Council

Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal Jack Hong; Shutterstock

Davis Polk & Wardwell has drawn criticism over the decision of its Asia chair to participate in an event commemorating Hong Kong’s controversial national security law. 

Martin Rogers, who also leads the firm’s Asia litigation team, is slated to speak at The National Security Legal Law Forum on May 28, which has been organised by Hong Kong’s department of justice to mark the second anniversary of the law's introduction.

While there is no suggestion either Rogers or his firm support the controversial law, today's Financial Times reports that their agreement to appear at the conference has been ‘denounced’ by prominent critics of the regime.

Rogers is set to speak on topics including cases relating to the national security law, foreign cases on national security and the jury system and investigative powers involved in national security cases, according to an announcement on Davis Polk’s website

Rogers’ official profile describes him as having a ‘strong relationship’ with regulators in Hong Kong and experience advising government bodies. He has been active in the region for more than three decades and advises on litigation, dispute resolution, regulatory and white collar defence matters. 

In a Linkedin post, Rogers said he was ‘honoured to be invited to speak’ at the event. He is the only private sector lawyer currently on the billing, with the list of other speakers including senior government officials and academics.

One of the keynote speeches listed on the event programme will cover how the law brought the region from ‘chaos to order’ and ‘won the hearts of the people’. Another will examine how the law can bring Hong Kong further ‘towards governance and prosperity’. 

Davis Polk and Rogers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Donald Clarke, a professor of Chinese law at George Washington University, told the Financial Times: “If you feel honoured to be speaking at such an event, you need to seriously rethink your ideas about what is honourable.”

Another critic of Davis Polk's appearance is activist and former corporate lawyer Samuel Bickett, who was expelled from Hong Kong after being jailed following a conviction for assaulting a plainclothes police officer during the pro-democracy protests. 

Bickett, a former senior associate at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, wrote on LinkedIn: 'Lawyers can and should provide commentary on the NSL at professional and academic conferences, but that’s not what this event is. It’s a propaganda event organised by the Hong Kong Department of Justice... How did this get approved internally by Davis Polk?'

However, British barrister Grenville Cross, a former director of public prosecutions in Hong Kong due to speak on the same panel as Rogers, defended the US lawyers' right to ‘freedom of speech' to the FT.

The controversy comes two months after the UK’s two Supreme Court representatives on Hong Kong’s Final Court of Appeal resigned over the Hong Kong administration’s departure from ‘values of political freedom and freedom of expression’. 

Another firm to have come under the spotlight for its work in Hong Kong was Mayer Brown, which ceased representing the University of Hong Kong on the removal of a statue commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed during the Tiananmen Square massacre after it was heavily criticised by human rights groups.

However, its decision to stop advising the university was, in turn, criticised by influential supporters of the regime.


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