Wednesday, 30 January 2013
High Court's Loss is HKU's Gain
Flicking through my Merton College Donor Report for 2011-12, I was interested to note that the name of one Anselmo Reyes cropped up not once but three times. What made this all the more surprising is that the man himself appears to be connected with the college neither as student nor staff. Indeed, on the final page of the report he is listed under “Parents and Friends”.
But combine a reading of the Merton report with the former High Court judge's own website and you will find that he has at least two connections with the college which will be celebrating its 750th anniversary in 2014 by rolling out, no doubt, a brand-new telephone fund-raising campaign.
In 2006, he gave the college’s Halsbury Society Lecture on the development of Anglo-Hindu law, which just goes to show how cosmopolitan this fellow is, given that he was born in the Philippines, educated in the United States and the United Kingdom, and is a Canadian citizen with a Hong Kong permanent identity card.
More recently, he let a Merton law student called Love “shadow” him as he went about his judicial business in the days before he switched career path and took on the dual roles of commercial arbitrator and professor in Hong Kong University’s Law Faculty. The student not only sat in the public gallery and watched cases; she also wrote draft judgments and talked them through with Reyes, something she says is all but impossible to do back home in England.
If Ms Love was able to shadow her mentor to the Admiralty Court, she would perhaps have been able to hear him adjudicate on claims relating to ownership, damage and loss of life, as well as the marvellously named “bottomry”, which, disappointingly, is not as Stephen Fry might have it (or, indeed, might already have had it...more than once), but a type of maritime insurance.
Intriguingly, in an SCMP article (probably unavailable unless you pony up HK$500 or enter any of the quotations given below in Google and hope the article's available on another platform) devoted to Reyes’s impending departure from the bench (“Another senior judge to leave judiciary”, 27 June 2102), a lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous (Is there any other type? Well, actually there is – read on) told the reporter that Reyes, though possessed of a sharp legal brain, was unhappy at having been overlooked for promotion, which in the case of a Court of First Instance Judge means the Court of Appeal.
Peter Mills, partner with law firm Hart Giles and maritime law specialist, offered a clue to Reyes’s failure to become a bigger wig with an incisive assessment of his style, describing him as a judge who cut to the chase “without getting too immersed in peripheral details”. Though a breath of fresh air to some, Mills admitted that Reyes had not always been “everyone's cup of tea”.
As his anonymous colleague hints in a summarising comment worthy of Kafka, Reyes was “one of the few judges to encourage law students to come into his courtroom and watch proceedings, so it was a surprise that he has not been elevated to the appeal court”. Kafkaesque, because the reader versed in the conservatism of the Hong Kong bench will automatically insert a “not” between “so it was” and “a surprise”.
Although Reyes stepped down as judge in charge of the Admiralty and Commercial Lists in June last year, he continued to work as a duty judge until September. Thus, while he was perfectly entitled to catch the eye in the 2011-12 Merton benefactors report as “The Hon Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes”, next time he decides to cough up 25 grand to his non-alma mater, he will have to make do with plain old “prof”.