A protester fleeing the might of the Chinese state, yesterday.
A British barrister has abandoned his hopes of prosecuting Hong Kong citizens who took part in pro-democracy protests against China.
David Perry QC had accepted instructions from the Hong Kong government, whose leader is appointed by Beijing, to prosecute nine activists who took part in demonstrations in the territory in 2019.
In a statement this week the Hong Kong government said there had been “growing pressure and criticism from the UK community directed at Mr Perry QC for his involvement in this case”.
The uproar in legal and political circles was capped by foreign secretary Dominic Raab's comment that Perry was behaving in "a pretty mercenary way".
The QC's defenders had argued that Perry was duty-bound to represent the Hong Kong government under the cab rank rule. But, said British shadow attorney general Charlie Falconer, the fact Perry pro-actively applied for permission to take the case after objections were made by the local Hong Kong Bar association meant that "it’s his choice and he has made the wrong choice".
Lady Helena Kennedy, the Labour peer and human rights lawyer, said the purpose of the cab rank rule "is to make sure no one goes unrepresented, that we make sure that justice to the best of all possibilities is represented in the court. That is not the situation here”.
She added, “A member of the English bar should be very careful about going to China and acting on behalf of the state in order to prosecute people under really questionable law that was produced at the behest of China and when the consequences could be very serious in terms of individual liberty of those involved.”
However, Perry has acted in Hong Kong before and is registered with the Hong Kong Bar Association, meaning the cab rank principle may apply to him in the territory. His defenders also pointed out that the protesters were being prosecuted under pre-existing Hong Kong legislation, as opposed to the controversial security act imposed by the Chinese government last year which sparked the protests.
But some lawyers suggested taking the case should arguably imperil Perry's QC status. Barrister and Cambridge University academic Jacob Meagher asked whether, as the Hong Kong SAR "had broken international law and treaty with the UK government", Perry's actions put him "in conflict with one of his core duties?"
Another barrister, disciplinary proceedings specialist Marc Beaumont, said morality should not be judged by counsel. “It is not for a barrister to judge the moral values of his own client,” he said. “If it was open to a barrister to do that, he would never act for a serial criminal, someone accused of a particularly horrific murder or series of murders, or even a clearly guilty and notorious war criminal such as one of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials”.
Nonetheless, Perry pulled out this week. "Can you imagine the fees they’d have given him? He must be furious", predicted one source (called RollOnFriday).
Views from learned members of the Discussion Board, aired before Perry retreated from the case, were mixed:
"I am instructing Perry at the moment. He's an outstanding lawyer and a very nice chap. His rates are also very, very reasonable (a fraction of Blackstones QCs of equivalent calibre). I really don't know why he's doing this."
"Without wishing to state the bleeding obvious, the cab rank rule wasn't designed to protect the globe's largest and most tyrannical regime."
"Let's be honest...He's going to make an absolute fortune out of it to top up his pension pot and then **** off to see out his time somewhere hot and sunny whilst the rest of us are picking up the tab for years of Coronavirus restrictions."
"In my experience of criminal law back in the day any Clerk could easily sidestep any ‘unpleasant’ brief simply by saying ‘Oh, very sorry Mr Hall Sir, but Mr Kavanagh is in a trial in Manchester on those dates’".
Perry did not respond to requests for comment, not even to confirm ROF's suggestion that it had all been a cunning ruse to bring down China's case from the inside.