Singapore—On September 25, Li Shengwu announced via his Facebook page that for the past two years, his legal team has been getting advice from David Pannick. Mr Li wrote, “I’m grateful for Lord Pannick’s guidance and help, even as he has been in the midst of winning a landmark constitutional case in the UK.”
Who is David Pannick?
Mr Pannick is well-known in the United Kingdom as a leading barrister and a crossbencher in the House of Lords. His practice as a barrister over the last four decades has mainly involved human rights and public law.
He works with Blackstone Chambers, a prestigious law office in central London. Each barrister’s page on the firm’s website has a set of quotes made about the lawyer, and on Mr Pannick’s page are the following:
“A superstar of the Bar.” —Legal 500, 2019
“Simply the best advocate of his generation.” —Legal 500, 2015
“Superstar of the bar. One of the top QCs, but also very approachable and a very nice person to deal with.” —Chambers and Partners, 2016
“Exceptionally gifted.” —Legal 500, 2019
Mr Pannick has had a long career as a lawyer and has been part of a number of high profile cases. He has not only worked on cases within the United Kingdom but also in the European Union, Canada, Hong Kong, Greece, Cyprus, Brunei, the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar.
He has worked on behalf of the Queen of England, the United Kingdom Government, the Sunday Times, gay servicemen, the UK Home Secretary, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the BBC, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The League Against Cruel Sports, Diana, Princess of Wales, among others.
Mr Pannick has been a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, since 1978. On his All Souls College page he wrote, “My practice covers a broad range of areas including Public law, Constitutional law, Human Rights, Media and Entertainment, Employment and Discrimination, Sports law, EU and Competition, including the European Convention on Human Rights, Professional Discipline, and Telecommunications. Much of my work has a Public law and Human Rights dimension.”
This year, Mr Pannick was included in the Chambers and Partners 2019 list of ‘Stars at the Bar,’ which featured this quote: “Lord Pannick QC is an accomplished public law practitioner who tackles a multitude of matters, from civil liberties and human rights cases to telecommunications disputes. He has an intimate understanding of European and international law, and recently successfully represented a Qatari diplomat in the case Attiya v Al Thani, establishing that he could not be sued owing to diplomatic and state immunity. Instructing solicitors admire his courtroom composure; one calls him ‘a truly brilliant advocate,’ whilst another describes him as ‘very measured and calm.’ ‘He is as good as it gets,’ explains one solicitor, adding that ‘he has a well-deserved reputation and is a clear thinker. He is authoritative and can express very complex concepts clearly in court.’
Sources also profess admiration for his intellectual acumen. ‘It’s awe-inspiring, the speed at which his brain works,’ remarks a barrister at another set. Solicitors who instruct Lord Pannick QC also note his user-friendly manner. One says: ‘He is easy to work with,’ while another affirms that he is ‘very approachable and makes the whole team feel valued.’”
The case against Li Shengwu
Mr Li is the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the grandson of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In 2017, Mr Li, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Harvard, was charged with contempt of court for allegedly scandalising the judiciary system.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers filed an application in the High Court to start committal proceedings against him for contempt of court.
The post had been set to a “friends only” setting, and included a link to an article from the New York Times from 2010 entitled “Censored in Singapore.”
Singaporean media picked up on the post and reprinted it widely, according to the Attorney General, who wrote Mr Li a warning letter asking him to remove the post.
Mr Li was also asked to issue an apology on his Facebook account.
According to the Attorney General, the post was “an egregious and baseless attack on the Singapore Judiciary and constitutes an offence of contempt of court…. The clear meaning of the post, in referring to ‘a pliant court system’, is that the Singapore Judiciary acts on the direction of the Singapore Government, is not independent, and has ruled and will continue to rule in favour of the Singapore Government in any proceedings, regardless of the merits of the case.”
Earlier this year, on April 1, he posted an update on his case noting that while the Attorney General did not succeed in getting new rules to be retroactively applied in his contempt of court case, the case will now proceed due to a ruling from the court that the process service on Mr Li was effective.
He expressed his disappointment with the judges’ decision but noted that the onus is now on the Attorney General to prove beyond reasonable doubt that his private Facebook post scandalized the judiciary in Singapore. /TISG