29 Mar 2021

Essex Court Chambers Duxton's advocates leave to launch new Singapore practice

Six lawyers led by former attorney-general distance themselves from London's sanctions-hit Essex Court Chambers

Efired; Shutterstock

All six advocates at an independent Singapore practice that is affiliated with London’s sanctions-hit Essex Court Chambers are leaving to establish a new venture.

The lawyers, who are led by former attorney-general VK Rajah SC, announced their decision to leave Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) on Monday.

Their move follows the imposition of sanctions by China against London’s Essex Court last Friday in apparent retaliation to the writing of a legal opinion by four of its tenants on the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang.

Launched in 2017, Essex Court Chambers Duxton shares the Essex Court name but operates independently of the London set as a regulated Singapore group practice. It emulates the chambers model, with self-employed, independent practitioners working together and sharing administrative services.

The advocates’ departure was announced by way of a notice on the Duxton Hill-based practice’s website which said they were leaving to form a new group practice, pending regulatory approval, and that existing matters were unaffected.

Led by Rajah, the group also includes Toby Landau QC, Chan Leng Sun SC, Colin Liew, Tham Lijing and Calvin Liang. It is not known if David Grief, Essex Court Chambers Duxton’s chief executive, and his staff will move to the new practice. Grief was the longstanding senior clerk at Essex Court before Joe Ferrigno took sole charge in 2018. 

Landau, meanwhile, is understood to be reviewing his membership of Essex Court in London. His profile has been taken down from Essex Court’s website, although he continues to promote his services as an independent arbitrator at 24 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where the set is based.

News of the departures in Singapore came hard on the heels of an announcement by Essex Court’s Jern-Fei Ng QC over the weekend that he was moving to 7 Bedford Row with immediate effect.

Essex Court said he had left with its full support, adding he would “no doubt continue to excel as a leading silk in the many areas of practice he specialises in”.  

Meanwhile, former Hong Kong International Arbitration chair Matthew Gearing, who is due to join Essex Court from Allen & Overy in May, told The Financial Times on Sunday he was “monitoring the situation closely”. His application to join Hong Kong’s Temple Chambers remains pending. 

Essex Court, which also operates an annex in Singapore, was one of four ‘entities’ and nine individuals accused by China on Friday of spreading ‘lies and disinformation’ about the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang. The sanctions stipulate that ‘Chinese citizens and institutions are banned from doing business’ with affected ‘individuals and their families’.

The apparent reason for the set’s inclusion on the list was the writing of a legal opinion by four of its tenants last month. Commissioned by the Global Legal Action Network, the opinion said there was ‘a credible case’ that acts carried out by China in Xinjiang ‘amounted to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide’.

On Friday, Essex Court issued a statement pointing out that the four members of chambers were providing independent legal advice, had not themselves published the opinion, and that ‘no other member of chambers was involved in or responsible for the advice and analysis contained in the legal opinion or its publication’.

It added: “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.”

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