A barrister contemplates speaking up.
A chambers has warned its barristers not to criticise China in case it impacts upon profits, RollOnFriday can reveal.
RollOnFriday reported last week on the existence of an email sent by The 36 Group which contained the guidance.
The set denied a source's claim that the email, which RollOnFriday had not seen at the time, suggested that members should not come out in support of Essex Court Chambers or say anything critical of China's human rights record.
The 36 Group said, "We have never sought and will never seek to silence our members, who, as self-employed barristers, regularly express their personal views on a wide variety of matters". It added that the description of the email by RollOnFriday's source "mischaracterises its content".
But, oh dear, a copy of the email was subsequently leaked. It reveals that the COO of The 36 Group wrote to everyone in chambers, "You have likely seen news of recent sanctions by the Chinese Government on Essex Court Chambers".
"I am writing on behalf of the EB [Executive Board] to urge the greatest caution over engaging in any online commentary on the matter, or related topics."
"Commentary or engagement from one person may have a detrimental impact on other individuals or practice areas within Chambers. This is especially so, given the significant links with and streams of work from that part of the world, enjoyed by at least two of the teams in Chambers."
The COO went on to tell members that The 36 Group's Executive Board was also "considering guidance for use of Chambers' and personal social and online feeds".
A source said the email "strikes at the heart of the independence of counsel" and "is precisely the consequence China wanted from their sanctions. To silence the English Bar".
Presented with a copy of the leaked email, The 36 Group said, "We maintain that your suggested interpretation of the confidential internal email is incorrect and taken out of context".
Judge for yourself. Just make sure Xi isn't watching:
You have likely seen news of recent sanctions by the Chinese Government on Essex Court Chambers. If you are unaware of the details, you can read the statement from ECC here: https://essexcourt.com/essex-court-chambers-statement-on-sanctions-imposed-by-chinese-government/
I am writing on behalf of the EB to urge the greatest caution over engaging in any online commentary on the matter, or related topics. Commentary or engagement from one person may have a detrimental impact on other individuals or practice areas within Chambers. This is especially so, given the significant links with and streams of work from that part of the world, enjoyed by at least two of the teams in Chambers.
The EB are currently considering guidance for use of Chambers and personal social and online feeds and will write to all members and staff in due course.
If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, please let me know.
[COO of The 36 Group]
Contrary to The 36 Group's advice to its members, this week all four Bar Councils of the UK and Ireland did engage in some online commentary, and issued a joint statement condemning the sanctions imposed on Essex Court Chambers.
Calling China's measures an "indiscriminate attack on legal professionals", the group said the punishment represented "an unjustifiable interference with the professional role of lawyers and an attack upon the rule of law internationally".
Allen & Overy's co-head of arbitration, who was moving to Essex Court Chambers, immediately embodied that courageous stance by, erm, announcing he was off to Fountain Court instead.