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Ethnic Chinese barrister judged one of the best in the UK

By Cecily Liu in London | China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-26 17:41
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Jern-Fei Ng. [Photo provided to China Daily.]

Jern-Fei Ng remembers feeling discouraged in 2001 when senior barristers advised him to consider a career other than being a barrister after he graduated with a law degree from the University of Cambridge.

“Because of what I was being constantly told, there really was a time when I believed that for an ethnic Chinese like me to become a barrister was a dream I could never even begin to imagine,” says the 38-year-old.

But he proved any doubters wrong.

With a 15-year track record that has seen him win some of the toughest court cases of their time, and after being on the right side of million-pound damages cases, Ng is now one of Britain’s most respected barristers.

And, on Monday, he is being appointed Queen’s Council, the highest rank that can be awarded to barristers, which puts him in the top 10 percent of the United Kingdom’s current population of 17,000 barristers.

Queen’s Council, which is also known as QC, dates back more than 400 years. The famous English philosopher Francis Bacon was the first to receive the honor. Other famous QCs include Michael Mansfield, Cherie Blair, and Helena Kennedy.

Achieving the rank of QC is tough enough, but Ng’s journey may be considered especially hard, given that he was born in Malaysia to parents who had never even attended university. Ng, whose schooling was mainly done in the Malay language, had a tough time adjusting to an English-speaking environment at the age of 17 when he arrived in the UK.

Ng said the key ingredients to his success have been“determination, hard work, and never letting the orthodox view hold you back”.

Perhaps another crucial ingredient has been the globalization of Chinese companies in recent years, which has afforded ample opportunities for him to represent Chinese clients in court against international opponents.

“My language skills and understanding of Chinese companies’ mindset allow me to better represent them,” he said.

Humble and softly spoken, Ng is not at all like the outspoken barrister who attacks his opponents in court with fierce arguments and eloquent rhetoric that is the stuff of movies. Instead, he wins cases with intelligence and unsurpassed determination.

Last year, he represented a Chinese company that an Israeli company had accused of breach of contract. He said it was a tough arbitration case and one in which he fought hard and lost.

His client was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages.

“The moment I learned the news, I was disappointed and sad,” he remembers.

But that was not the end of the issue. Instead of giving up, he realized that the arbitration award hinged on an issue that was outside the scope of the arbitration tribunal’s jurisdiction. He subsequently helped his client challenge the arbitration award, and won.

The case is an apt reflection of Ng’s dedication, which he also extends to the rest of his life. Outside his busy work schedule, which includes constant traveling to China, Singapore, and Indonesia, he dedicates time to continue taking private Mandarin lessons and to his wife and two young children.

“My wife and I have taken a conscious decision to only speak Mandarin with our children, and help them preserve their Chinese roots and identities,” he said.

“I am proud to be Chinese, and I hope my achievements will help encourage more ethnic Chinese to dream bigger and achieve their full potential.”

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