They enjoyed the chance to exchange news with their friends and mentors and to meet new friends on their return to London. We were fortunate to be addressed by Sir Martin Davidson, the Chairman of the Great Britain China Centre, who spoke of the considerable impact of the training schemes on UK-China relations with the benefit of his personal involvement during his time working with, and ultimately leading, the British Council. On the following day a seminar was held in Inner Temple which included excellent presentations by the current cohort of Chinese lawyers on recent legal developments in China. This was followed by afternoon tea at the fashionable Magazine Restaurant in Hyde Park. This two-day event was kindly supported by 39 Essex Chambers, XXIV Old Buildings, Stone Chambers, Erskine Chambers and 20 Essex Street. It was a fitting celebration for an initiative that remains as valuable and relevant as when it started and continues in a vibrant form with great support from many colleagues within the Bar.

A major transformation

Change in China has been rapid and extraordinary since the development of the first training initiatives between the UK legal profession and the Chinese legal profession in the late 1980’s. At that time, China was relatively unknown and inaccessible. It was a very foreign country for us to visit; these were days of hordes of bicycles, almost no cars, no mobile phones or email and before the Pu Dong financial district had emerged on the banks of the Huangpo river in Shanghai. The fledgling legal profession was less than 40,000 strong. The last 25 years have seen a period of dramatic change in China with huge global impact. In particular, they have seen an unprecedented legislative programme, with which the UK legal profession has assisted, the growth of a strong and independent legal profession (numbering now some 250,000) in which the alumni from our training schemes play a prominent part, and the facilitation of important judicial exchanges and training initiatives with our own senior judiciary.

China Law Council (1989-2011)

From 1989 to 2011 relations between the legal profession in the UK and the profession in China were managed by a joint working party of the Bar Council and Law Society which became known as the China Law Council. Through this cooperation, the two professions, in partnership with SOAS (London University) and the British Council, established the Young Chinese Lawyers Training Scheme (YCLTS) to develop closer professional, cultural and social ties between lawyers in the two countries at a time when young lawyers in China were eager for the chance to experience international legal practice and to travel abroad. The YCLTS involved the young Chinese lawyers spending a year in England on a vocational training programme which included academic tuition at SOAS, placements with law firms and in barristers’ chambers followed by a visit to the EU institutions, with the last part involving experience of life and practice in Hong Kong. The scheme was funded for its first ten years by the Department for International Development. It was then re-launched in a similar format by the Lord Chancellor’s department, as the Lord Chancellor’s Training Scheme (LCTS), for a further 10 years through to 2011.

Bar Council Training Scheme

When government funding for such training ended, the Bar Council was determined to ensure the continuation of a training scheme available to young Chinese lawyers who wished to come to England so that lawyers from both countries could learn from each other about their respective legal systems and forms of practice. This led to the updated and more focused Bar Council Training Scheme (BCTS) which is now in its fourth year. A delegation of 8 Chinese lawyers, selected by the Bar Council and coming from internationally practising law firms in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou has just completed the current programme between 1 June and 17 July. This course gives the young Chinese lawyers an understanding of the English legal system and of life and work at the Bar, focusing in particular on international dispute resolution. The host chambers gain a unique insight into the Chinese legal profession and have the chance to establish friendships and the potential for future cooperation. The current seven week programme starts with one week of legal training provided pro bono by BPP Law School focusing on international arbitration and litigation. The second week includes visits to the courts and other legal institutions as well as a two day visit to one of the circuits, this year very successfully to Manchester. The heart of the programme involves five weeks of vocational training in chambers shadowing barristers, much as a pupil might, to see first-hand how English justice operates. The lawyers also participate in a series of evening seminars in specialist legal areas, delivered by practising barristers, as well as a lively social programme. This year they attended a series of excellent sessions, including a mock arbitration and a cross examination exercise.

The legal legacy

In total, 329 young Chinese lawyers have taken part in these training schemes since 1989. The training has been highly prized by the Ministry of Justice in China and the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA). The schemes have provided unique professional and personal opportunities for both the young Chinese lawyer participants and their English hosts. In the early days, participants could expect step changes in their careers on returning home which might involve moving city or even moving country. Graduates returned to China to develop leading legal practices or careers in government or industry, whilst retaining their close links to our profession and forming a strong alumni network. In some cases the personal impact has been unexpected and even involved marrying partners from the training scheme, or partners whom they had met in the UK and either moving over here or taking them back home.

Broader initiatives

The training schemes have also enabled numerous broader initiatives between the English and the Chinese professions and have facilitated a dialogue in areas of mutual importance and interest, extending to developments in criminal procedure, the environment and human rights. We have hosted many judicial and other legal delegations from China, in particular delegations from the Legislative Affairs Committee carrying out research for important legislation in fields including professional regulation, criminal law and procedure and civil law and procedure. For many years the partnership with ACLA involved regular visits to China by the Chairman of the Bar and the President of the Law Society. Regular delegation visits have been organised by the Bar Council to meet our counterparts in the Chinese profession, to discuss issues of mutual interest, to create friendships and develop business links. These have taken in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Guilin and Kunming.

We appreciate the cooperation of our partners in these training initiatives over this exciting 25 year period, including the Ministry of Justice and ACLA in China and the Law Society, SOAS, the British Council and BPP University in the UK. We have also much appreciated the support and experience of the FCO, UKTI, the China Britain Business Council and the Great Britain China Centre. At the heart of the success of this work, of course, have been the barrister mentors and chambers who over the years have provided invaluable training and a warm welcome for the Chinese lawyers.

Future partnership

For the future, the BCTS will be enhanced by a cooperation with China’s leading international arbitration institution, CIETAC. This new partnership will enable us to access a wider pool of participants, including lawyers from less accessible areas of China. It will incorporate an additional one week course on international arbitration for prospective participants in Beijing. The new cooperation was announced during the recent celebrations which were attended by a delegation from CIETAC led by Mr Leng Haidong, the Deputy Secretary General of CIETAC. The Bar Council looks forward to signing a formal Memorandum of Understanding with CIETAC in Beijing at the end of September.

The fact that CIETAC has offered us this partnership demonstrates the high regard with which the scheme continues to be held by the Chinese profession. It will also deepen and widen Chinese lawyers’ understanding about what the Bar can offer to them in specialist advocacy and advisory skills and hence bring with it increased opportunities for our members.

As China continues to grow and to develop its legal profession and its judiciary, the Bar’s relationship with the Chinese legal profession retains its importance, its relevance and its fascination and we look forward to continuing this for the next 25 years.

Contributor Adrian Hughes QC