Lesbian expat in Hong Kong court case gets backing from Goldman Sachs, 31 other major groups

Financial institutions, law firms and NGO seek say in officials’ final appeal against woman who followed her partner to city and sought spousal visa

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 7:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 10:35pm

A lesbian woman fending off Hong Kong authorities in a final court appeal for her spousal right to remain in the city has picked up strong backing from major banks, law firms and a global NGO.

Fifteen financial institutions, 16 law firms and human rights group Amnesty International were seeking to have a say in the government’s appeal against the woman known in court as QT, set to be heard at the Court of Final Appeal on June 5, according to a statement on Wednesday by Vidler and Co, the law firm representing her.

The woman, who followed her partner – known as SS – to Hong Kong, won in a lower appeal court last September to have their British civil union recognised in the city for the purpose of a dependant visa.

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The court 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.

Rather than fighting the authorities alone, Vidler and Co announced on Wednesday that a host of organisations had lent support to QT, whose identity is protected by the courts.

Her lawyer Michael Vidler said: “QT welcomes the applications for intervention from such a renowned and respected international human rights NGO and such a broad group of the global financial institutions and law firms in Hong Kong.”

A statement from law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, for the law firms and finance companies, said they all had policies to promote diversity in everything from race to sexual orientation, and sought to attract top talent from around the world.

“The policy,” the statement read, referring to the immigration restriction, “significantly diminishes their ability to attract and retain the world-class talent that is crucial to maintaining and enhancing Hong Kong’s status as a leading legal services centre in Asia-Pacific and globally.” 

Jan Wetzel, a senior policy adviser at Amnesty International, said: “This is an important case in Hong Kong; an important case for LGBT rights.”

But the 32 bodies still need the court’s approval before they can get involved. If the court allows them, they are expected to present their written arguments via their lawyers.

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This is not the first time major banks have sought to be a party to the case.

At the earlier appeal court level, 12 of the 15 financial institutions in the present application requested to have their voices heard. But the Court of Appeal rejected their application.

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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.

She lost at the Court of First instance, but won at the Court of Appeal. The higher court ruled that the Immigration Department’s refusal amounted to indirect discrimination.

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 Hong Kong; and Macquarie Group. 

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