A British barrister appointed by Hong Kong to prosecute prominent pro-democracy campaigners brings a ‘veneer of respectability to a system which deserves no respect’, lawyers have said.

David Perry QC, of London chambers 6KBW College Hill, has agreed to act for the Hong Kong government next month in its efforts to convict nine activists accused of taking part in an illegal assembly. Among the defendants is Martin Lee, a barrister who was awarded the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Award for his lifelong defence of freedom, democracy and the rule of law in 2019.

Martin Lee

Martin Lee (centre) at a demonstration in Hong Kong

Perry’s decision to accept the brief has triggered fierce criticism from lawyers and politicians.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, director IBA’s Human Rights Institute, said Perry ‘has chosen to accept a brief to prosecute on behalf of the state and for an executive which is undermining democracy and the rule of law’.

Adherence to the 'cab rank' rule is no justification, she added. ‘The cab rank principle exists to protect the rule of law... The rule exists to protect the system. David has been brought in to add a veneer of respectability to a system which deserves no respect. It is now a puppet of China which trashes human rights and has no concept of what the rule of law means.’

The Bar Council declined to comment on Perry’s decision. However, responding to reports of mass arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong, chair Derek Sweeting QC described the crackdown as an ‘assault on democracy itself and calls into question the legitimacy of the security laws being used by the Chinese authorities to make mass arrests.’

Oliver Lewis, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, accused Perry of ‘bringing the bar into disrepute’ by prosecuting offences 'under a law that has been condemned by international human rights bodies'.

However, Marc Beaumont, a barrister who specialises in disciplinary proceedings, said counsel 'do not and cannot judge morality'.

'It is not for a barrister to judge the moral values of his own client. If it was open to a barrister to do that, he would never act for a serial criminal, someone accused of a particularly horrific murder or series of murders, or even a clearly guilty and notorious war criminal such as one of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials.'

Beaumont added that Perry may have acted out of obligation to the the cab-rank principle, under which a barrister must take a case that is within their knowledge and expertise provided they are free to do so.

Perry has been contacted for comment.


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