CAREER ON ICE I was born in Swan River in Manitoba, Canada. It's a small town, population about 3,000, and minus 40 degrees Celsius for much of the winter. Growing up, I never really thought of being a lawyer, I wanted to be a professional ice-hockey player. My mum took me to the curling rink in Swan River when I was five; that's where I learned to skate. My father was a United Church minister, a clergyman, so growing up my role models were Martin Luther King and Gandhi. Fighting for the underdog also fits the competitive challenge I get from sports. I moved from Swan River to progressively larger cities. When I was nine we moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario, population about 120,000, then to Calgary, Alberta, that at the time was about 600,000, then to Toronto, where I went to university. I did a degree in genetics and then started a graduate programme in genetics. One day, the person next to me in the lab was getting overly excited about packing a tube for an experiment so that the effluent would come out in a more efficient manner. I thought: "This is not what I want to do with my life". I got a job at the pharmacy at Toronto General (Hospital) and that was where I met my wife. She's Chinese Canadian. She said she wouldn't continue to go out with me if I didn't get a law degree - very status conscious; if you're not a doctor, lawyer or engineer, it's not good.
RIGHTS STUFF I was laid up in hospital with a knee injury from tennis and had time on my hands, so I studied for the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), did quite well and got into law school in Toronto. She went to study law, too, at the University of Victoria. After we graduated, I followed her to Hong Kong. She's much more skilled than I am, can speak Cantonese, Mandarin and English and works at a firm doing China intellectual property law. I was interested in human rights stuff, but wasn't sure how I could do that in Hong Kong. Then I saw (Hong Kong-based human-rights lawyer) Pam Baker on TV and thought, "Well, at least someone is doing work that I might be interested in." So I buzzed Pam when I arrived in Hong Kong in 1995 and I started to work with her.
ABODE TIME It was a fun time, a really international office, with lawyers from Australia, the US, Canada and the UK. A lot of the work we did was pro bono, so I kept my job options open and taught a bit of tennis. And there were lots of exciting things going on; it was the tail end of the Vietnamese (refugee presence) and a number of big cases and, obviously, the handover hysteria. Pam was getting on in age and was closing down; the last cases taken were some of the right of abode cases for mainland children. Peter Barnes and myself set up Barnes & Daly in 1999 and continued doing the same work.
CASE BY CASE Human rights cases need very good evidence and very good strategy in order to have the occasional success. The Prabakar case in 1999 stands out. He could recount everything that had happened to him (in Sri Lanka) and when - he was a dream client. It was a unique case that kicked off the whole torture-claim system and the idea of having refugee law in Hong Kong. We ended up winning in the Court of Final Appeal, in 2004.
A large number of the cases we see are refugee- or torture-claim related. This year we took the case of Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a domestic helper fighting for right of abode. The case went to the Court of Final Appeal. It was a tough battle and brought out a side of Hong Kong that wasn't very nice to see. I'd like to see more academic analysis written of that judgment because I don't think it was a very good judgment. I'm quite competitive - I think that comes from the sports background - I don't think we lost. I think it was unfortunate the judiciary was too timid to decide the right way. So, for me, it was a watershed moment for Hong Kong in how far the judiciary can go to promote human rights cases and the values they should be promoting.
COURT NAPPING I've mentored law students at Hong Kong University and was heartened by the mainland students - they really understood how important the rule of law is, whereas the Hong Kong students can be a little blasé. I like to think there is hope on the horizon for mainland law students because they know what they don't have and Hong Kong better wake up and realise what they have and not lose it. If Justice Kemal Bokhary's view about the rule of law is right - that it's doomsday on the horizon for Hong Kong - then, if we can't get things done through the courts, I would probably continue doing what I do outside the courts: lobbying, mass action, whatever else.
MISSING RINKS Hong Kong is home. When I can wear flip-flops most of the year, I'm not going back to shovel snow in minus 40. My two sons are seven and 14 and both play ice hockey here. In the summer we go to Calgary for hockey camp. My mum lives there and you can rent the full rink, change rooms, everything for C$80 (HK$580). It's about C$800 to C$1,000 to rent the ice in Hong Kong. So the treat is to go back and rent the whole rink and play.
GRAND PLANS I do still love what I do. I occasionally feel a little overwhelmed and burned out, but it doesn't last long; usually I wake up pretty excited about the day. I try to play tennis three times a week - you're more productive when you get that balance right. I'm optimistic - I still think my good tennis years are ahead of me. I joke that I want to be the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam.