A speech on the rule of law which was due to be given at a legal conference in China was cancelled by censors, a global association of lawyers has reported.

The president of the Paris-based Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA) was due to deliver the keynote speech at the Global Lawyers Forum hosted in Guangzhou earlier this month. California litigator Jerry Roth planned to talk about the international rule of law and the importance of an independent bar and judiciary.

However, the speech was pulled after Roth submitted the final version of his planned remarks to organisers, the UIA said today. He was later allowed to address presidents of bar associations and law societies at a roundtable event.

The UIA, which has members from 110 countries, expressed its ‘grave disappointment’ over the censorship and said it ‘vehemently disagrees’ with China’s misuse of the term ‘the rule of law’.

It said: ‘Use of the same phrase to describe the very different concept of “rule by law”, which focuses instead on demanding obedience to laws regardless of their content or substantive or procedural fairness, and on the primacy of law enforcement regardless of how implemented, turns the definition on its head.’

A statement added that lawyers in China are frequently persecuted for practising their profession, citing cases of physical and psychological torture, incarceration and forced disappearances.

Earlier this month, the outgoing chair of the Bar Council, Richard Atkins QC, was criticised by fellow lawyers for attending the two-day forum in Guangzhou, which was labelled a ‘propaganda junket’.