Leading arbitration silk leaves Essex Court Chambers for Brick Court

Vernon Flynn is third silk to depart after China sanctions; Brick Court also takes on former Hong Kong chief justice

Vernon Flynn QC, a senior barrister at Essex Court Chambers, is to join rival London set Brick Court Chambers.

Flynn, who is leaving Essex Court after nearly 30 years at his former set, announced the move on LinkedIn over the weekend. He is the third silk whose practice has China links to leave the UK chambers since it appeared on Beijing’s UK sanctions list on 26 March.

A specialist in commercial litigation and arbitration, Flynn has an extensive international practice, spanning the London Commercial Court and appellate cases, as well as hearings in established mainstream arbitration hubs, such as London, Sweden, Singapore, Qatar and Dubai. He also has a developing practice in African-related arbitrations.

While Flynn’s international clientele has a strong Russian and CIS flavour – spanning oligarchs and Russian shipping, banking and commercial interests – he has previously appeared in cases involving Chinese state-owned enterprises.

His CV at his former set, now removed, cited his involvement in an ICC arbitration involving Uzbek and Chinese businesses, as well as offshore work in the BVI representing Chinese parties in insolvency proceedings. He has also worked in Hong Kong.

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. 

The move against Essex Court was apparently over the writing of a legal opinion by four of its members 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.” 

China’s state-run newspaper, the Global Times, subsequently reported that the removal of reference to the opinion from the set’s website showed “China’s retaliation is an effective deterrent to foreign individuals and entities which want to maintain access to the Chinese market.”

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

Two QCs with China links have cut their ties with the chambers ahead of Flynn. Within days of the sanctions, Jern-Fei Ng QC joined 7 Bedford Row. He was followed out of the set by arbitrator Toby Landau QC, who has become a sole counsel in London while in Singapore he and the five other advocates at Essex Court Chambers Duxton – an independent but affiliated practice – left to set up Duxton Hill Chambers

Flynn’s move – to a set whose own clerking and practice areas mirror his strengths – marks the first departure of note from Essex Court to a direct competitor.

It comes as the set announces that former Hong Kong chief justice, Geoffrey Ma, will join the set as a door tenant, where he will practice as an arbitrator. Ma, who is widely respected across Hong Kong for his tenure in the role, not least for his support of the rule of law and an independent judiciary, retired as chief justice earlier in the year. 

Brick Court has made lateral hires of counsel before, albeit sparingly. In 2020 it took on James McClelland QC from Fountain Court, alongside 39 Essex Chambers’ Sarah Bousfield and Twenty Essex’s Charlotte Tan, reuniting her with former colleague Edward Ho, who joined in 2016. The arrival of Ma and Flynn, however, is recruitment of a quite different order, especially to corporate clients both in China and elsewhere.

Brick Court declined to comment when contacted about Flynn's move, other than to confirm it had taken place. 

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