The death of Dr Gerard McCoy, 63, arguably Hong Kong’s leading QC, saw the end of a 40 year-long legal career that included some of Hong Kong’s most difficult criminal trials for the kiwi lawyer.
Highly regarded in both New Zealand and Hong Kong for his legal skills, he was a senior counsel since 1997 and regarded as one of the few barristers in Hong Kong who was equally at home in civil and criminal courts.
Active in both jurisdictions, he also represented Kim Dotcom, permitting him to access funds that had been frozen overseas, and also in the Teina Pora case.
He also acted for the ‘jailhouse lawyer’ Arthur William Taylor, arguing one of his cases involving the ban on prisoners voting.
He was also one of the last barristers to take silk in Hong Kong – in 1997 – before the territory transitioned to China.
Gilt Chambers, which McCoy co-founded, confirmed in a statement on Thursday that the New Zealand native – who had been undergoing treatment for leukaemia – died peacefully on Tuesday in Queen Mary Hospital, and his family were by his side in his last moments.
“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,” the Chambers statement read.
“He had what could be described as something of a cult following in Hong Kong,” said Professor Philip Joseph, of Canterbury University and who worked with Dr McCoy on several cases.
“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.
In Hong Kong he was best remembered for leading property tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung’s legal team in challenging the government’s controversial extradition bill, a case Lau eventually withdrew.
More recently he had dedicated a large part of his career to human rights cases. He represented the three key Occupy leaders last year when they were in court facing public nuisance charges for the civil disobedience action in 2014.
Lawyer Michael Vidler, who worked with McCoy on several human rights cases, said the barrister’s death was “a huge loss to Hong Kong especially at a time when we so desperately need legal heavyweights of his calibre to stand up to power”.
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
“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.”
“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.
LawTalk report that 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.”
McCoy was enrolled at the University of Canterbury studying part-time for his doctorate and he graduated with a PhD in 2007.
“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.
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.
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.
Robert Whitehead SC, who knew McCoy for almost 40 years, called him a “remarkable barrister, utterly fearless, and dedicated to upholding the best traditions of the Bar”.
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