Essex Court Chambers has distanced itself from an opinion which resulted in China imposing sanctions on the set.
Essex Court is one of ten UK-based organisations and individuals targeted by China for spreading "lies and disinformation" about human rights atrocities in Xinjiang.
A 105 page opinion produced by four Essex Court human rights lawyers for The Global Legal Action Network, a non profit group, concluded that there was "a very credible case" that "crimes against humanity" were being committed against the Uyghur population in China's Xinjiang region, including "enslavement, torture, rape, enforced sterilisation and persecution, and the crime of genocide".
The opinion recommended national governments take "urgent action to prevent the ongoing atrocities", including imposing sanctions on individual suspects.
Instead, China imposed sanctions on them. The country claims that re-education centres in the region are for terrorists and that Xinjiang is free from repression, despite evidence to the contrary.
Its measures prevent Essex Court's members from visiting China and freezes any assets they may have in the country. Although largely symbolic, the sanctions may complicate the question of whether to instruct the set for some organisations, by marking it out as a sinner in the eyes of Beijing.
Essex Court attempted to limit the damage with a statement which noted that its barristers were justified in writing the opinion, and also noted at somewhat greater length that the rest of the chambers really had nothing to with it. "These four individuals were providing independent legal advice in accordance with their professional obligations", the set stated, but, "Essex Court Chambers is not a law firm and has no collective or distinct legal identity of any kind", and, "Members of chambers are self-employed sole practitioners each regulated in their own capacity as separate individuals".
Alas, Beijing did not immediately rescind its punishment, and over the weekend all six members of the set's independent Singapore branch, Essex Court Chambers Duxton, announced they were leaving, along with Jern-Fei Ng QC, a senior commercial barrister whose practice focuses on Asia.
Optimistic clerks subsequently deleted the sole mention of the opinion on Essex Court's website, but the reaction from China suggests the concession will not appease Xi Jinping. The Chinese Communist Party tabloid, Global Times, quoted Chinese academics who warned that "the removal of the reference from Essex Court Chambers’ website is far from enough", and crowed that the punishment had, "exposed that the individuals and entities under the sanctions are merely pawns who blindly followed the anti-China forces led by the US to defame China".
Essex Court would not say whether it stood by the opinion, which is not an unusual response once China flexes its muscles. Law firms fearful of China's prickly attitude towards Hong Kong hastily amended their websites in 2019 to remove the impression that they may have regarded it as an independent territory. Even Skadden, which initially held fast, has now quietly removed 'Hong Kong' from the 'country' field of its Hong Kong office entry.