UK counsel 'touts' face prosecution

Some of London's leading chambers face being blacklisted by Hong Kong's Bar Council after “illegally” touting for business there.

Mr Justice Patrick Chan Siu-oi, Hong Kong's chief judge, is understood to be considering a crackdown on foreign barristers who use glossy brochures and cocktail parties to tout for business.

Specific complaints have been made against three sets. These are understood to be Bruce Mauleverer QC's 4 Pump Court, Michael Crystal QC's 3/4 South Square and Robert Rhodes QC's 4 King's Bench Walk.

Charles Sussex for Hong Kong's Bar Council is reported as saying: “What is happening is that London chambers are coming to Hong Kong and adopting measures which, if they were repeated by local barristers, would represent a serious infringement of our code of conduct.”

It is understood that the Bar Council is drawing up a blacklist of overseas barristers and their chambers who tout for business locally.

“It is occurring on a large scale. It is a serious problem,” says Sussex.

The chairman of the Bar Council in the UK, Jonathan Hirst QC, says: “They have very old-fashioned and out of date rules for what they call 'touting'. But I will very probably be warning barristers of the need to comply with the local rules.”

Hong Kong is a major source of business for London's commercial barristers, largely because their rates compare very favourably to the local bar.

The touting issue was raised before Hong Kong's chief judge in an unsuccessful application by Geoffrey Vos QC of 3 Stone Buildings. Vos applied for permission to represent an accountancy firm in a Hong Kong case.

There was no allegation that Vos had been involved in touting.