Protecting Hong Kong’s most vulnerable
Freshfields has been assisting Justice Centre Hong Kong since 2008, helping asylum seekers, refugees, victims of torture and survivors of human trafficking and forced labour access their legal rights.
Established in 2007, Justice Centre Hong Kong provides direct legal and psychosocial assistance to over 300 men, women and children every year and has become the leading justice organisation in Hong Kong.
Justice Centre aims to bring about positive systemic change at the local level. It is the only organisation providing holistic services, from direct social welfare assistance for victims of serious abuse, to research, policy, advocacy and strategic litigation to develop laws, policies and practices.
Piya Muqit, Executive Director at Justice Centre Hong Kong, explains that Hong Kong has more than 14,000 refugees from over 50 countries fleeing the same torture, persecution, sexual and gender-based violence as their brethren in Europe. However, Hong Kong is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention so refugees do not have the protections and rights as in many other countries.
“The spirit of brotherhood towards the local refugee population is sometimes lacking in Hong Kong society,” Piya says, “but the legal community here, Freshfields playing a key role, is trying to remedy this through working with Justice Centre Hong Kong’s lawyers, researchers and policy and advocacy advisers to ensure that refugees at least are afforded their right to equality and dignity before the refugee status determination process within the Unified Screening Mechanism.”
A wide range of pro bono work
Freshfields provides regular pro bono legal advice, occasional professional services help (such as publishing, training, trademarks registration, contract reviews and marketing support) and financial assistance to Justice Centre Hong Kong. In 2019, 26 Freshfields fee earners provided around 1,000 pro bono hours across five offices (Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Tokyo, London).
Freshfields has assisted Justice Centre with a number of matters, including day-to-day institutional support like reviewing commercial agreements, assisting with trademark registrations and providing general corporate advisory support, as well as handling requests for urgent support with research and legal opinions, taking on a discrete piece of casework to support Justice Centre’s in-house lawyers, and directly representing Justice Centre’s clients in strategic cases before the High Court or Torture Claims Appeal Board.
In one such case, we have represented an African national in the claimant’s non-refoulement application (refugee protection) before the Appeal Board; conducting legal research into the scope of a medical practitioner’s duty to refrain from disclosing a claimant’s private medical record to public authorities; instructing a psychologist to assess the potential impact of aggressive cross-examination on a vulnerable claimant; and conducting country-of-origin research for states in South Asia and Africa, which involved collaboration among a number lawyers from our Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo offices.
The Hong Kong office is also helping Justice Centre explore whether and how it may benefit from delivering some of its legal advice service digitally through an app.