Abramovich lawyer among first to gain higher rights in Hong Kong

Skadden partner Paul Mitchard QC, who advised Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich on his court battles with Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, is among 15 lawyers who have obtained higher rights of audience in Hong Kong.


Paul Mitchard
Paul Mitchard

The move comes following the enactment of the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2009, with the Hong Kong Higher Rights Assessment Board receiving a total of 122 applications last September. Of those, 90 applicants sought higher rights by way of exemption with the remaining 32 doing so by way of assessment.

Mitchard is admitted as a solicitor in Hong Kong and admitted to practice in the BVI and as a solicitor-advocate in England, where he is a QC. He moved from Skadden’s City office to Hong Kong in 2009 to launch the firm’s Asia litigation practice.

With 35 years of experience, he has acted in many landmark litigation cases in the UK. Most recently, he represented Abramovich in a series of lawsuits brought by Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky in London (31 August 2012).

Joining Mitchard on the list of those receiving higher rights are Mayer Brown JSM partner Nicholas Hunsworth, Allen & Overy partner Matthew Gearing and Sidley Austin international arbitration practice co-chair Yang Ing Loong. They will all be known as solicitor-advocates.

They will be permitted to argue cases in the higher courts of Hong Kong, such as the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal. Previously, only Hong Kong admitted barristers could be instructed in these courts.

The Hong Kong Higher Rights Assessment Board, which is chaired by Justice Michael Hartmann of the Court of Appeal of the Hight Court in Hong Kong, was established at the beginning of last year to make rules in relation to applications for higher rights of audience and the determination of such applications. It started accepting applications in September 2012.

It is understood that about 15 successful applicants via exemptions were notified by the board this morning in Hong Kong. Certificates recognising these rights will be issued by the Council of the Law Society shortly after the Chinese New Year holidays.

Mitchard applied for exemption from the the Hong Kong Law Society’s new training and examinations for rights of audience, based upon his advocacy experience as a QC.

“This is a welcome development, providing a genuine choice for clients in the form of healthy competition between the two branches of the profession,” said Mitchard. “This is in line with developments in England and Wales and other common law jurisdictions which have recognised that a monopoly in the field of advocacy is no longer justified provided that, as in Hong Kong, proper training is mandatory for those who wish to enter it.”

In addition, the board has contracted Hong Kong’s Academy of Law to provide training programmes for applicants going down the assessment route. According to the board, the assessments on these applications will take place shortly after the completion of those training programmes, which is expected to be in the next a few months.