Goldsmith kicked off anti-gay challenge by Singapore High Court in favour of local counsel

The former attorney general, Peter Goldsmith QC, will not be allowed to challenge anti-gay legislation in Singapore after the Singaporean High Court refused to allow the couple to instruct foreign counsel. 

Goldsmith, a Debevoise & Plimpton partner, was instructed by the couple in their battle to strike down Singapore’s Section 377A legislation, which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men (11 July 2013).

The Singapore court said that Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee could not instruct the silk because the legal issues were not such that they were beyond the comprehension of a domestic lawyer.

In the 35-page judgement, Justice VK Raja also argued that the focal point for counsel in Singapore is strong written advocacy. He said: “There is absoloutely no bar to Lord Goldsmith continuing being involved in this matter through the written medium.”

Lim and Chee launched their challenge last year, arguing that the legislation was discriminatory and unconstitutional. In April, Justice Quentin Loh threw out the claim, stating that it was a matter for parliament.

The couple then turned to Goldsmith to lead an appeal against the ruling having instructed litigation head Deborah Barker of Singaporean firm KhattarWong to lead the domestic team. Goldsmith had agreed to act on a pro-bono on the case.

Debevoise & Plimpton said in a statement today: Whilst disappointed that the full application to admit Lord Goldsmith QC was not accepted, we are pleased to have already contributed significantly to the written case of Mr Lim and Mr Chee including developing new arguments not deployed in the first instance court.

“As the Singapore court decision makes clear it is the written materials rather than the oral submissions which are most significant and enable “advocates in Singapore most fully [to] communicate their arguments to the appellate court judges. We are also gratified that the court recognises that Lord Goldsmith was “well qualified to take on the appellants’ case” and has “extensive experience” in constitutional, public and human rights cases.” 

Singapore amended its Legal Profession Act last year to make it easier for English QCs to appear in the domestic courts (15 February 2012). Since then, it has become an attractive proposition for sets looking for instructions from the international market.

London sets 20 Essex Street and Essex Court Chambers were the first to open in the region in June 2009 (22 June 2009), followed last year by both One Essex Court and 39 Essex Street (26 June 2012). Stone Chambers also plans to launch in the city state (4 March 2013).