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Dr Gerard McCoy QC, SC 1956-2020

13 May 2020

Gerard McCoy who died recently at the age of 63 after a long illness, was one of the most prominent lawyers in Hong Kong having being involved in some of the biggest cases in the former British territory. He was so well regarded, young barristers would attend court to hear him develop his arguments.

A long-time friend, Philip Joseph, a Professor of Law at the University of Canterbury, and who worked on several cases with the barrister, said Gerard (right with wife Cicy) was highly regarded in both Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Gerard McCoy

“He had what could be described as something of a cult following in Hong Kong,” says Professor Joseph.

“Whenever he would argue in court, word quickly spread about his appearance and inevitably the public gallery would fill with young barristers hanging on his every word. He had a marvellous memory, he could pull cases out of a hat, as it were, to provide a winning argument.

“He was in great demand because he was an outstanding advocate but he did feel the pressure at times. Often I heard him say he wanted to spend more time at home in Christchurch. But, when he did return, within a few days he would need his adrenaline fix again, and so off he would go back to Hong Kong.

“He loved the territory and he loved the lifestyle there. He was widely regarded as the leading public law advocate at the Hong Kong Bar. He was one of the last QCs to take silk there before the transition in 1997 from the UK to China.”

After the peaceful transition, Gerard McCoy became a Senior Counsel in Hong Kong.

He acted for Kim Dotcom when the German-born, New Zealand-based Megaupload founder attempted to free up his Hong Kong money which had been frozen under an American court order. “And Gerard succeeded in doing so, which enabled Dotcom to fund his litigation in New Zealand,” says Professor Joseph.

Gerard was admitted in 1980 and left New Zealand in 1983 to work for the Hong Kong Government’s legal division before going into private practice as a barrister sole. With Australian Andrew Bruce, he co-founded Gilt Chambers, which is now the largest chambers in the autonomous region.

He was ranked by Chambers and Partners as one of only two Star Individuals in dispute resolution in Hong Kong. He was awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star in 2005 for services to law in Hong Kong.

Gerard successfully represented the Chinese Government’s Railways Department in a case involving about US$28 billion, FG Hemisphere v Democratic Republic of Congo.

He was called as an expert witness in the law of Hong Kong in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and the UK. He was appointed Deputy Judge of the High Court of Hong Kong in 2001-2003, exercising full civil and criminal law jurisdiction and as a Recorder of the High Court 2006-2008. He was a Professor of Law at the City University of Hong Kong.

Great legal intellect  

Professor Joseph says Gerard had a large presence – both in terms of personality and height – he was around 6 ft 4.

“Gerard had a very acute sense of humour and was great company, as well as being a great legal intellect. He had an outstanding legal mind, with a vast knowledge of the law. He was editor of the New Zealand Administrative Reports for many years while based in Hong Kong. He also wrote a number of book chapters and articles, usually by invitation. I note that the President of the Court of Appeal Justice Stephen Kós interrupted a court hearing in a habeas corpus application to pay tribute to Gerard. The Judge noted that Gerard co-authored the leading text on that writ.”

That tribute included the following: "This is a habeas corpus appeal, and it is proper we begin by recording, with regret, the death of Gerard McCoy, QC.

"His contribution to New Zealand law in recent years reflected his great interest in improving access to justice for the deprived.  History will record that his contribution, behind the scenes, to ensuring the appeal of Mr Teina Pora both got to London and was there allowed, effected the reversal of a great miscarriage of justice.  His death is a great loss to his family, and to the law."

Professor Joseph also notes that Gerard carried out considerable pro bono work in New Zealand, including several high-profile cases, one of which the Professor appeared as junior to the barrister. “That was in a case involving the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. Some of the brothel owners went to Gerard and said ‘our brothels are now outside the designated brothel zone so we can’t operate’. We won that case unreservedly!”

Gerard McCoy acted for the ‘jailhouse lawyer’ Arthur William Taylor, arguing one of his cases involving the ban on prisoners voting.

“He also acted pro bono for Teina Pora in his compensation claim against the Crown. He successfully challenged, in the High Court, the Government’s decision not to inflation-index the compensation to which Mr Pora was entitled for the many years he wrongly spent in prison,” says Professor Joseph.

Mutual love of the law

Philip Joseph met Gerard McCoy when the barrister walked into his law faculty office one day and presented his habeas corpus text. “We shared a mutual love of the law,” he says. “I still have that text on my shelf.”

At the time Gerard was enrolled at the University of Canterbury studying part-time for his doctorate. He graduated PhD in law in 2007.  Professor Joseph says Gerard would travel back from Hong Kong regularly spending about a week in Christchurch, although his trips home seemed to become less regular of recent times.

Gerard McCoy 2

“He would always come armed with interesting cases to mull over, often ones in which Gerard was acting.

“He was also a very dear friend of the Canterbury law faculty. He established the Hotung Fellowship which came through his work for Eric Hotung, a very wealthy businessman and philanthropist. We use the Fellowship to bring out distinguished judges each year to deliver public lectures throughout New Zealand. That is a legacy that Gerard has left us and the faculty is very grateful indeed. The endowment means the faculty will be able to host distinguished Hotung Visiting Fellows in the years ahead. Fellows have included US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, UK Supreme Court Judge Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, and High Court of Australia Judge Justice Stephen Gageler AC.”

Gerard McCoy was also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Canterbury, where he regularly presented guest lectures.

He was a keen follower of cricket and established an annual cricket match between law staff and students at the University of Canterbury.

Gerard was also a strong advocate of animal welfare. A fellow lawyer in Christchurch Chris Morrall says: "When he became aware that a horse was going to be put down, he just couldn’t allow to happen. So he adopted the mare called Liarliarpantsonfire. Gerard and his fellow lawyers bred from her and she went on to produce several very successful racehorses. He was a real animal lover."

Professor Joseph says his friend was diagnosed with leukaemia last year.

Gerard McCoy leaves behind his wife Cicy, his son Kim and his daughter Zoe.  Both Kim and Zoe are also lawyers; Kim at the Hong Kong bar and a member of Gilt Chambers. Kim and Zoe both studied for their law degrees at Otago University but Zoe also went on to study for her LLM at Canterbury University, which she completed with 1st Class Honours.  Zoe is now studying to be admitted to the Hong Kong bar.

Major cases  

A statement from Gilt Chambers, published in the South China Morning Post,said:

“He loved his family. He loved Hong Kong. He loved the law. He hoped and believed the law would make Hong Kong a better place. Hong Kong and Gilt Chambers will not see his like again.”

In a career spanning 40 years, he defended the likes of milkshake murderer Nancy Kissel, and British investment banker Rurik Jutting, whose drug-fuelled murders of two Indonesian women in 2014 made international headlines.

The Morning Post says, two years ago, he defended Malaysian professor Khaw Kim Sun, who was jailed for life after murdering his wife and daughter, in a case Gerard McCoy’s close friend Andrew Bruce SC, with whom he co-founded Gilt Chambers, was prosecuting.

Mr Bruce told the newspaper he called his friend a “polymath” and said he was “one of the finest counsels I have seen in my career”. “He’s a person who was able to make bricks out of straw,” he added.

Top criminal lawyer Lawrence Lok Ying-kam, who fought alongside Gerard McCoy in one major case, praised him for his versatile legal skills.

“He was the best legal brain in Hong Kong, no doubt about it,” Lok told the Morning Post.

Last updated on the 15th May 2020