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LGBTI

Hong Kong’s top court denies 31 major banks and law firms’ bid to support lesbian expat ‘QT’ in LGBT rights battle

Court decides arguments made by institutions were already covered by woman who was denied a spousal visa through her wife after moving to the city in 2014 

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2018, 8:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 4:21pm

Hong Kong’s highest court on Monday struck down a bid from more than 30 major banks and law firms, as well as Amnesty International, to support a lesbian’s legal battle that has far-reaching implications for gay expatriate couples in the city.

The ruling was handed down by the Court of Final Appeal about a month after 15 financial institutions, 16 law firms and the global human rights group petitioned the court to have a say in what has become known as the “QT case”.

A spokesman from Davis Polk and Wardwell, the lawyers representing the banks and law firms, said they were “disappointed”, but respected the court’s decision. 

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“Hong Kong faces strong competition from other international financial cities in the region and globally and the current immigration policy risks putting Hong Kong behind other jurisdictions,” he said, adding that the institutions believed respecting diversity was essential for the city to attract talent.

QT, as she is known in court, followed her partner, known as SS, to the city but was denied a dependant visa despite the pair having entered a civil union in Britain. QT won in a lower appeal court in September to have their British civil union recognised in the city for the purpose of a dependant visa.

The decision upended the Immigration Department’s practice of granting such visas only to heterosexual married couples. Following the ruling, the government lodged a final appeal, which will be heard on June 5.

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The 15 banks and 16 law firms told the court in late March that since they had an interest in the policy – which affects their ability to hire gay employees in Hong Kong – they wanted to take part in the June 5 hearing to present “a more rounded picture”.

Amnesty International offered to provide its expertise so that the court could have “an independent analysis of the legal issues”.

In the judgment, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li and his fellow justices, Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok, acknowledged that the policy carried consequences for employers. 

“The [Immigration] Director’s policy, insofar as it excludes the spouses of persons in same-sex marriages, must have some limiting effect on the pool of persons who can, or may wish to, come to work in Hong Kong,” they wrote.

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But in rejecting them, the judges said the arguments presented by the banks and law firms had already been covered by QT’s lawyers. 

They said that while Amnesty could provide expertise in the matter, some of it was irrelevant and the expertise that was relevant had already been included. 

Amnesty International was disappointed by the ruling, but respected it. Senior policy adviser Jan Wetzel said the judgment confirmed the principle that NGOs could play a role in future human rights cases. 

“This is an important aspect for future applications to intervene, whether by Amnesty International or others,” he said.

QT, a British citizen, entered a civil partnership in England just months before moving to Hong Kong in 2011 with SS, who had been offered a job in the city. 

But after her arrival, QT’s application for a spousal visa was denied, prompting her to apply for a judicial review in 2014.

She lost at the Court of First Instance, but won at the Court of Appeal, which ruled that the Immigration Department’s refusal amounted to indirect discrimination.

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The 15 international financial institutions are: ABN AMRO Bank; AIG Insurance Hong Kong; Australia and New Zealand Banking Group; The Bank of New York Mellon; BlackRock Asset Management North Asia; Credit Suisse; Goldman Sachs; Morgan Stanley; Nomura International (Hong Kong); Royal Bank of Canada; Societe Generale Hong Kong Branch; State Street Bank and Trust; Barclays; Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft Hong Kong; and Macquarie Group. 

The 16 law firms are: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld; Allen and Overy; Ashurst Hong Kong; Clifford Chance; CMS Hasche Sigle Hong Kong LLP; Eversheds Sutherland LLP; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; Herbert Smith Freehills; Hogan Lovells; Latham and Watkins; Linklaters; Morley Chow Seto; Morrison Foerster LLP; Oldham, Li and Nie; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP; and Ropes and Gray LLP.