New S'pore law practice told to clarify status

Reports suggest it is 'annexe' of chambers group in UK: Ministry

A new law practice, with former attorney-general V.K. Rajah among its practitioners, has been given seven days by the Law Ministry to clarify media reports that suggest it is an "annexe" or " local brand" of a London-based law chambers group.

The ministry, in a letter on Thursday, also told Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) that its press release, articles and related statements have created the impression that it is part of Essex Court Chambers in London.

This is contrary to the representations it has made to the ministry, the letter added.

The ministry also issued a press statement on Thursday, saying the group is an association of Singapore-qualified lawyers.

It added: "The applicant lawyers had expressly confirmed to the Ministry of Law that Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) was separate and distinct from, and independent of, the English barristers' chambers, Essex Court Chambers in London."

But earlier, on Tuesday, when the group announced its establishment in Singapore, the London-based Essex Court Chambers also announced on its website that Mr Rajah, Mr Tham Lijing, Mr Colin Liew and Mr Calvin Liang "have become members of Essex Court Chambers, practising as full-time independent advocates".

They are understood to be the first Singaporean quartet to be admitted as members of a prominent law chambers group in the United Kingdom.

Under the English "chambers model", individual specialist lawyers who have their own practices come together to form an association under one roof, and they share overhead costs.

Besides being members of Essex Court Chambers, the Singapore lawyers have separately and independently set up a similar "chambers" model in Singapore - known as Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) - to practise here.

Their move led to media reports that "both surprised and concerned" the ministry.

It noted that the reports suggest Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) has been "set up", "opened" or "launched" by Essex Court Chambers.

For instance, international publication Global Arbitration Review had said that "Essex Court Chambers has launched a new practice group in Singapore" which includes Mr Rajah.

The ministry stressed it "has not approved any of this".

It also noted that two of the Singapore group's lawyers interviewed by Channel NewsAsia gave the impression that Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) is an annexe of Essex Court Chambers in London.

"This is again contrary to both the rules in Singapore and the confirmations given to the ministry."

The ministry pointed out that contrary to suggestions made, "barristers from Essex Court Chambers in England cannot practise Singapore law and cannot appear in Singapore's courts unless they have been given leave by the Singapore courts to do so or have been admitted to the Singapore Bar".

In response to the ministry's statement, Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) reiterated that it is separate and distinct from, and independent of, Essex Court Chambers in London.

It also told The Straits Times that the clarifications sought by the ministry "are being given and we are glad to have the opportunity to do so".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'New S'pore law practice told to clarify status'. Print Edition | Subscribe