The People’s Republic of China has imposed sanctions against four barristers of England and Wales and their “immediate families”. The chambers in which the barristers work as independent self-employed legal practitioners was also specifically named in the announcement of sanctions, affecting hundreds of people unconnected with the work of the four members.
These sanctions are linked to a legal opinion, given by the four barristers to their clients, who then made that opinion public. It is understood that the legal opinion was related to legal issues arising from alleged human rights violations by the People’s Republic of China authorities against the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang region.
The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (Basic Principles) were adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990 and state at paragraph 16:
“Governments shall ensure that lawyers
(a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; and
(c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”
Crucially, Paragraph 18. states:
“Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”
It is clear, therefore, that lawyers must be free to act for any client, regardless of whether their client is an opponent of, or expresses views which are critical of, any particular government.