26 April 2021

Allen & Overy arbitration co-head Gearing to join Fountain Court instead of Essex Court

Outgoing partner switches new London base following China's imposition of sanctions on first choice

Matthew Gearing QC, Allen & Overy’s outgoing co-head of international arbitration, is to join leading London set Fountain Court. 

Gearing, who had earlier announced his intention to join Essex Court Chambers, will join the new set at the end of April, on retirement from Allen & Overy, where he spent 24 years, based in both London and Hong Kong. 

Gearing’s decision to join Fountain Court, rather than Essex Court, as originally announced, follows the imposition of sanctions by the Chinese government against Essex Court in March. 

A former chair of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, Gearing’s decision to join the Bar had been widely welcomed. Following the sanctions, Gearing said he was keeping the situation under review.

Today, in a LinkedIn post, he thanked Essex Court’s co-heads of chambers, Joe Smouha QC and Huw Davies QC, together other members of that set 'for their sensible approach to issues that have arisen in the past few weeks'.

Essex Court has seen three silks with international practices exit the set since the sanctions were imposed; arbitration lawyer Vernon Flynn QC left for Brick Court last week, while Toby Landau QC chose to practice on his own account in London. Junior silk Jern-Fei Ng QC joined 7 Bedford Row within days of the sanctions being imposed.

The move is a considerable coup for Fountain Court, which has been keen to expand its roster of arbitrators lately; former Supreme Court justice, Lord Wilson, joined the set as an arbitrator last year.

It will reunite Gearing with former A&O counsel Andrew Pullen, who practices from the set’s Singapore annex, together with Lawrence Boo and Darius Chan, both leading Singaporean academics and arbitration lawyers. Mumbai-based Indian senior counsel, Zal Andhyarujina SA, joined as a door tenant in March.

His arrival at the set aligns him with recognised arbitrators including Michael Brindle QC, Michael Crane QC and Anneliese Day QC, alongside heavyweight commercial counsel such as Bankim Thanki QC, the set’s head of chambers, David Railton QC and Stephen Rubin QC. 

Like many of London’s leading sets, Fountain Court has acted for major Chinese clients, including state-owned enterprises, in both onshore and offshore proceedings. 

The set said: “Matthew’s addition strengthens Fountain Court’s well-respected international arbitration practice, and demonstrates the set’s broader and continued international growth, particularly in Asia.”

Gearing also confirmed that it was his intention to continue with his plans to join Hong Kong’s Temple Chambers later in the year, where, if the move is confirmed by the Special Administrative Region’s courts and the Hong Kong Bar Association, he would reunite with HKIAC’s current co-chair, Rimsky Yuen SC, the former Hong Kong secretary of justice. 

Essex Court was one of four UK entities and nine individuals named on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ sanctions list, which was published on 26 March in retaliation to sanctions imposed by the UK government on China for human rights abuses against the Uighurs. 

In February, four members of Essex Court wrote a legal opinion commissioned by The Global Legal Action Network, which said there was ‘a credible case´ that acts carried out by China in Xinjiang ‘amounted to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide’.

Essex Court has pointed out that the tenants were providing independent legal advice and that the chambers has 'no collective or distinct legal identity of any kind'.

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