In response to the announcement by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs of sanctions against UK lawyers, including an entire barristers’ Chambers, and the Uyghur Tribunal, Schona Jolly QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (“BHRC”), said:
“Lawyers play a vital role in ensuring a country operates within the rule of law, providing legal services which includes the provision of advice and promoting the role of justice. As the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers makes clear, lawyers should not be threatened with sanctions for their professional work. Governments should ensure that lawyers are able to perform their duties without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference, and moreover that they should not be identified with their clients or clients’ causes. Instead of engaging openly with the world’s legitimate concerns that atrocity crimes are being carried out in Xinjiang, China’s attempts to stamp down on those who highlight them demonstrates China’s contempt for universal standards of human rights, the people of Xinjiang themselves, and the rule of law. Such a misstep only sharpens the attention of the world on the plight of those in Xinjiang, and heightens the perception that the commitment of the Chinese state to the rule of law, including in Hong Kong, is unstable and hollow.”
“The sanctioning of an entire barristers’ chambers, who include specialist international law practitioners, is of significant concern, maladroit and self-defeating. Barristers operate from a single Chambers, but they are independent, self-employed practitioners who may or may not share the professional or personal views of their colleagues or their clients. Placing sanctions on the entire structure shows a misunderstanding of the structure of the legal profession here, but more importantly of the operation and independence of lawyers themselves.”
“In July 2020, BHRC called not only for targeted sanctions, but for the establishment of an impartial and independent UN mechanism to closely monitor and analyse the human rights situation in China. It also called upon China to permit an independent and impartial investigation into allegations of genocide, murder, torture, enslavement and other ill-treatment. We reiterate that call and urge China to ensure that such investigations can take place without further delay. We are glad to see that the Foreign Secretary has called on China this morning to allow the UN in to investigate. It is time that China agrees to this instead of engaging in tit-for-tat diplomacy.”
BHRC considers the imposition of these sanctions against UK lawyers to be an improper interference with their professional role, which seriously risks undermining the rule of law.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
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- For more information on the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC), visit our website at https://www.barhumanrights.org.uk
- The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) is the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales, working to protect the rights of advocates, judges and human rights defenders around the world. BHRC is concerned with defending the rule of law and internationally recognised legal standards relating to human rights and the right to a fair trial. It is independent of the Bar Council.