The Court of Final Appeal on Monday rejected applications from 15 financial institutions, 16 law firms and Amnesty International to support a lesbian expatriate’s fight against the government for equal rights.

The applicant, QT, entered into a civil partnership with another woman, SS, in the UK in 2011. But when SS came to Hong Kong for work, the Immigration Department only allowed QT to enter the city on a tourist visa – rather than a spousal visa. QT then filed a judicial review against the decision.

Court of Final Appeal.
Court of Final Appeal. File photo: In-Media.

QT lost at the Court of First Instance, but the Court of Appeal last year ruled in her favour, and legal experts hailed the decision as a “landmark judgment” that recognises same-sex relationships as valid in Hong Kong. The Immigration Department then lodged a final bid to overturn the ruling.

In March, banks and law firms made applications to the court to intervene in the case, on the basis that they have a material interest in the questions of law raised in the appeal.

They aimed to give the court their perspectives – thereby presenting “a more rounded picture” – and added that their submission would not prejudice the other parties in the appeal.

The Court of Final Appeal
The Court of Final Appeal. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Amnesty International filed a similar application, adding that the organisation could give the court an “independent analysis of the legal issues” using its knowledge and expertise.

In a decision on Monday, the Court of Final Appeal rejected the applications – which were supported by QT but opposed by the Immigration director.

”List of banks and law firms:”

Financial Institutions:
(1) ABN AMRO Bank N.V.
(2) AIG Insurance Hong Kong Limited
(3) Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited
(4) The Bank of New York Mellon
(5) Barclays Capital Asia Limited
(6) Blackrock Asset Management North Asia Limited
(7) Credit Suisse (Hong Kong) Limited
(8) Deutsche BankAktiengesellschaft, Hong Kong Branch
(9) Goldman Sachs Services (Asia) Limited
(10) Macquarie Corporate (Hong Kong) Limited
(11) Morgan Stanley Asia Limited
(12) Nomura International (Hong Kong) Limited
(13) Royal Bank of Canada
(14) Societe Generale Hong Kong Branch
(15) State Street Bank and Trust Company

Law firms:

(16) Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
(17) Allen & Overy
(18) Ashurst Hong Kong
(19) Clifford Chance
(20) CMS Hasche Sigle, Hong Kong LLP
(21) Eversheds Sutherland LLP
(22) Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
(23) Herbert Smith Freehills
(24) Hogan Lovells
(25) Latham & Watkins
(26) Linklaters
(27) Morley Chow Seto
(28) Morrison & Foerster LLP
(29) Oldham, Li & Nie
(30) Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
(31) Ropes & Gray LLP

The judges noted that the Court of Appeal last year also rejected applications by 12 financial institutions to intervene in the case, with the banks arguing that the Immigration Department’s policy would downsize the pool of quality foreign employees, thus affecting their interests – and Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre.

QT. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The Court of Appeal said it was prepared to accept that the policy, in excluding spouses in same-sex marriages, has “practical consequences” of limiting the talent pool, but added: “this is a perspective that the Court can see without the need for the Banks and Law Firms to intervene.”

“We also note that the effect of the policy on the Director’s aim of encouraging talented people to live and work in Hong Kong is a matter addressed in QT’s written case on this appeal,” the top court judges wrote.

“In the circumstances, we are not satisfied that the submissions proposed to be made by the Banks and Law Firms will materially assist the Court in respect of that argument.”

The judges added that Amnesty International’s draft submissions address matters that do not concern the appeal. They also said the submissions do not “advance any materially different arguments to those already contained in QT’s written case.”

The top court granted leave for the case to be heard last December. The appeal has been scheduled for June 5.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.