The four professional bodies of barristers and advocates of Ireland and Britain have issued a joint statement of condemnation of the sanctions announced by the People’s Republic of China against barrister members of the legal profession and their immediate families.
The Bar of Ireland, the Bar Council of England and Wales, the Bar Council of Northern Ireland and the Faculty of Advocates of Scotland have united in denouncing the move.
The matter concerns four barristers in China, who gave a legal opinion for lay clients, who then published that opinion publicly.
The opinion related to legal issues arising from alleged human rights violations by Chinese authorities against the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang Province.
Several barristers, including senior QCs, have since moved chambers.
The imposition of sanctions on lawyers for providing a legal opinion clearly contravenes the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers which state that "lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions”, the statement says.
It continues: “The naming in the sanctions of a barristers’ chambers, which comprises some 95 other barristers who practise from the same premises but as independent legal practitioners, is a further indiscriminate attack on legal professionals.
“It is inconsistent with respect for the rule of law.
Functioning legal order
The statement points out that the Chinese state, as well as Chinese citizens and their businesses, benefit as much as anyone from a functioning international legal order.
“We call on the People’s Republic of China government to review these sanctions, which call into question its commitment to the rule of law, as well as its status and reputation as a reliable partner in international trade and commerce,” the statement says.
It adds that measures which target lawyers who are complying with their professional obligations, simply because their work attracts the disapproval of the Chinese government, are also a threat to the global legal community.
“We therefore call upon national and international Bar associations to condemn the imposition of these sanctions as an unjustifiable interference with the professional role of lawyers and an attack upon the rule of law internationally, the statement concludes.