Every so often, prominent British barristers parachute into Hong Kong to take on controversial cases allegedly too complex for local silks. Sometimes these cases are such that an outside practitioner may offer fresh perspectives. Overseas barristers are extremely well paid for their services, so it is no surprise that, for decades, Hong Kong has been wryly termed “Treasure Island” by outsiders given leave to appear before the local courts. Given the inevitable expense, the more overseas barristers that are employed the more “face” is gained, which can be a compelling consideration in Hong Kong. In high-profile cases where, let’s face it, the accused may be culpable of even more naughtiness than the offences with which they have been charged, the more top-flight representation they can call on, the better. As one retired senior judge remarked to me during a conversation about a recent high-profile corporate corruption case that had engaged several London silks – and nevertheless ended in a brace of convictions and lengthy prison sentences – “just how guilty does one have to be to go to all that effort?” Some top London barristers made their names defending complex and politically motivated cases around the world. One such individual, whose early socialist leanings eventually turned him into a crypto-communist, was British barrister Denis Pritt (1887-1972). Pritt had been a Labour Party member since 1918 and, according to one contemporary, “he swallowed it whole” after a visit to the Soviet Union in 1932. He became such a communist sympathiser that he was later expelled from the Labour Party. A document prepared by English novelist George Orwell for the Information Research Department in 1949, and made public only in 2003, listed the names of likely communists within the British establishment. In it, Orwell noted Pritt was “very able and courageous” as well as “almost certainly an under-ground Communist”. In 1931-32, Pritt successfully defended Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh , then known as Nguyen Ai Quoc, or “Nguyen the Patriot”, against extradition from Hong Kong to almost certain death in French Indochina. Ho had escaped to the British colony following a French crackdown on revolutionaries, which saw many of his political colleagues guillotined. Acting on a tip-off, Hong Kong lawyer Frank Loseby applied for the appropriate writs to prevent Ho’s clandestine deportation and the case went all the way to the Privy Council in London. Pritt defended Ho and the verdict handed down ensured that, while Ho was to be deported from Hong Kong, it would not be on a French vessel or to a French destination. The subsequent history of Vietnam would be very different in consequence. Pritt also defended a number of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, at a major trial in 1952. Roads throughout the country were later named in his honour by one of the accused, Jomo Kenyatta, who would become Kenya’s president after its independence from Britain in 1963. And in Singapore, in 1954, when members of the University Socialist Club were prosecuted for sedition for articles published in Fajar , an otherwise anodyne student publication, Pritt successfully defended them, too. Junior counsel on the case was a rising local lawyer-politician known as Harry Lee, who would later revert to Lee Kuan Yew and serve as prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Prominent early members of the club went on to become leading political figures in Singapore and one, leading historian Wang Gungwu , would become vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. An enduring irony of the Fajar trial was that Lee – hardly a champion of such things after he came to political power – publicly hailed the verdict as a tremendous victory for freedom of speech in Singapore and Malaya.