At Ison Harrison, we have always prided ourselves on setting the standards in the legal sector, and it is fantastic when our expertise and professionalism is recognised, particularly when this can lead to impacting positive change on a wider scale. This was the case recently, when one of our partners, Mark Foley, was invited on an exciting and ground-breaking trip to China with a view to assisting with the implementation of new criminal procedures.

Mark has been a qualified solicitor since 1979 and practices exclusively in the Higher Courts; conducting trials in the Crown Court and appearing regularly in the Court of Appeal. He has represented clients charged with the most serious crimes, including terrorism and murder. But for many years, Mark has also worked as a part-time criminal law lecturer at what is now Leeds Beckett University.

Ison Harrison act as ‘international experts’

This is what led to an amazing opportunity to visit China and spread his expertise. Initially Mark took up an invitation from the University to provide a seminar for a delegation of Judges from the Supreme People’s Court of China, conducted at Ison Harrison’s offices in January 2019. This subsequently led to an invitation to speak at a conference in Qingdao, China, in March 2019. Speaking to an audience of senior judges, lawyers and academics, Mark was one of two ‘international experts’ invited to speak at the conference, the other being Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, DBE.

Mark takes up the story behind his trip: “In order to deal with increased workloads, China has been experimenting with new criminal procedures and most recently with plea leniency procedures.  As of September 2018, 132 legal aid stations have been set up and the creation of ‘duty solicitors’.  These are positive signs, but in a system with a 99.9% conviction rate, where reports of torture are commonplace, and limited access to defence lawyers, further advice and assistance has been sought and welcomed.”

As well as addressing the conference, Mark was invited to use his extensive experience gained in the UK and compare this with how the same kind of cases are processed in China. Mark was able to observe cases conducted in a criminal court, and had the opportunity to discuss the cases and procedures with the judge, prosecutor and other senior officials afterwards.

More work to be done

The most alarming feature of this process,” Mark observed “was that the appointed duty lawyer, in the five cases observed, didn’t speak a single word!” This was quite a revelation compared to how things are conducted in the UK, and Mark concluded that there is clearly more to be done, with the hope that further liaison with the Supreme People’s  Court of China in relation to this and further planned projects will help to develop improved and robust procedures.

Mark found that the five day trip, funded by the Supreme People’s Court, was a huge success on a professional and cultural level. “It was exhilarating and truly memorable,” he concluded “involving grand banquets and opportunities to explore the beautiful coastal City, unaccustomed as Qingdao is to welcoming visitors from the UK. Jelly fish is one of the delicacies offered and enjoyed, but not necessarily something that is likely to find itself on a takeaway menu here at home!

Ison Harrison is very proud that our legal standing is such that we can help to shape legal structure in such a powerful and influential country as China, and we sincerely hope Mark’s work can be continued over the course of 2019, and that we can help to deliver positive change for many years to come.

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