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”.      


Legal Eagle said...

Word on the street has it that A.T. was disppointed in his hopes to emulate his mentor, Roberto Robeiro, who had a meteoric rise from recorder (p/t judge) to permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal.

Rather different personalities, one might add.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean 25,000 pounds or HK dollars?

ulaca said...

Must be another lawyer - don't read anything you're sent (p. 16 of the report).

Reyes, along with 14 others - 4 of whom opted to remain anonymous - is a "Rochester Benefactor", which means he gave between £25,000 and £49,999.

I've never understood why they have these bands (very common in HK where one has Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Scrap Iron etc), since a person is hardly likely, to take the Merton case, to give, say, £26,000 or - even more improbably - £48,000, on the basis that he or she has a distinct preference for being a Rochester rather than a Clare 'benefactor'.

Frankie Fook-lun Leung said...

In Hong Kong, after 1997, more and more Chinese is being used in courts at lower level. Even at the High Court, many lay litigants cannot afford lawyers to represent them. Hence a judge however brilliant who cannot speak and read Chinese would be idle and lack promotional chances. I cannot say that is the case of Reyes but it would have an effect on many non-chinese speaking lawyers and judges, regardless of legal capabiiity.

Frankie Fook-lun Leung said...

As Mr. Justice Kemal Bokhary opined extra-judicially that judicial independence in H K is under a cloud. Being a judge in a place like H K which is not a major common law jurisdiction offers few opportunities to move on careerwise or to work in another country. On the other hand, being an academic is more flexible and marketable cross-border.

Frankie Fook-lun Leung said...

Mr. Justice Kemal Bokhary has just published a book expressing certain views extra=judicially.

Frankie Fook-lun Leung said...

Now that CY Leung's government controls the executive branch and the Legislative Council is dominated by pro-government legislators, the next target for Beijing to put under its grip will be the judiciary. Judicial independence will be eroded fast.