The Fanling Conspiracy

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Ben and Dylan arrived together outside court the following morning. All three Counsel were standing together. Peachey noticed Ben and gave him a smile. He smiled back.

“Another big day, gentlemen”, beamed Gordon, as he was in a habit of saying.

“Yes,” said Peachey, “we were just saying that Leung and Cartwright should take us to at least the middle of next week. Then submissions, perhaps the judge will adjourn for a couple of days for us to get them together. Not much swimming for me over the next week.” Her eyes twinkled at Ben.

“We’re starting with Leung this morning”, said Richard. “Is Professor Yau here?”

“Yes”, said Ben, “he’s over there.”

“Good, we’ll need him.”

Ten minutes later Tony Leung began his evidence in chief. It soon became apparent that he was not as well qualified or authoritative as Professor Yau. He corroborated a lot of what Yau had said in relation to the temple types to be found in southern China in the 15th century, and agreed that the temple in question appeared to be one of the Buddhist variety found at about that time. He also said that the Tang Clan family tree produced appeared to be genuine, but would not go so far as to say that the temple was built by the present Tang ancestors. That was OK, thought Ben, it was a short leap in logic for the judge to take on the admitted evidence.

Leung attacked the physical evidence the Clan had produced, saying there was no basis for considering it genuine, and even if it was, it was still not enough to prove Tang Clan ownership of the temple. Yuen led Leung through his evidence very painstakingly, and this was as far as they got by the end of the day. As it was Friday, they adjourned until Monday morning, when Yuen continued in the same vein. Even the judge thought Ronnie was spelling out the obvious and asked him to move on on several occasions. Yuen did not raise the issue of the 1924 document with Leung, leaving it to Cartwright. Finally, it was cross-examination, and Gordon left this to Richard.

Richard had a short conference with Professor Yau before starting his cross-examination. He managed to get Leung to admit that it was “possible” for the court to conclude on the basis of the admitted evidence that the temple was built by the Tang Clan ancestors. That was good enough. With the rest of the evidence to hand, Ben was confident that the Court would find that the temple was originally a Tang Clan temple. That was really the aim of the cross-examination, and it had been achieved. Richard was not too long with Leung after this admission. They broke for mid-morning coffee, leaving re-examination by Yuen to come. The lawyers piled out of court, Dylan in a state of excitement.

“Wow, that’s great, isn’t it, please tell me that’s great!” he said.

“Indeed, Dylan”, smiled Gordon, “it is good news. But we still face two major hurdles. One, the allegation that the Tang Clan gave away the temple under the 1924 document, and secondly, the charity aspect. Ronnie is setting up Leung, as he will do with Cartwright, to say to the judge that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the temple should be termed a charity, and should be run as such with a management committee under a Deed of Trust, for the benefit of the public. He will also use the evidence of our lay witnesses, in part, to back him up.”

“Does he have a chance of success in the charity argument, Gordon?” asked Ben.

“On that point, my dear boy, my opinion has not changed from the start of trial. I fear that it is the easy way out for the judge to say, fair enough, the temple did once belong to the Clan, but the way it has been run for centuries indicates a public charity. I think there is a 50/50 chance on that one, there are authorities pointing both ways.”

“Oh”, said Dylan, becoming immediately subdued. Ben looked at Jacob and Wai, who were silent. Gordon noticed the change in mood.

“But let’s not get down, boys, it’s been a good morning, come on, coffees are on me!”

Ronnie spent up to lunch-time in re-examination, before finally grinding to a halt. Professor Cartwright would start after lunch. Professor Davids was to join them in the canteen for a chat about Professor Cartwright. Indeed, Davids was already there when they reached the canteen. So was someone else, a Thai lady. Only Ben recognised her, from the hotel room. It was the alien. Was Davids off his rocker, he thought? The Professor saw Ben’s look and the astonished faces of the others.

“Oh, don’t worry, gentlemen, I haven’t forgotten to take my medicine again.”

“Are you drunk?” asked Dylan.

“Indeed not, Mr. Roberts. Please let me introduce you to Noi, my fiancee.” Ben nearly fell over. Gordon sat down, open-mouthed.

“Yes, it’s been a world-wind romance, but Noi is coming home with me at the end of the week to meet my parents, we hope to get married next month.” There was a moment’s silence.

“Well, we’re all very happy for you, Professor” said Ben. “At least the trip will not have been in vain for you.” He should also thank Big Bob for getting him drunk that night, Ben thought. Dylan continued to stare at her, wondering if he’d been with her before. Probably not, he decided.

“Is Noi to join us for lunch?” asked Gordon doubtfully.

“Oh indeed not, Mr. Stewart” said Davids, “I know we have important matters to discuss. Noi is leaving to meet a friend.” Male or female, paying or non-paying, thought Dylan. “See you later, darling.” Noi left them with a sweet smile.

“I don’t want to get personal, Professor, but do you know exactly what you’re doing here?” asked Ben.

“Oh I know you’ll all think she’s a prostitute, and, actually, she is. But I’ve discovered she has a heart of gold, and frankly, I’m no George Clooney. She’ll do for me.” They ordered lunch and soon forgot about Noi, Gordon telling Davids what was expected of him that afternoon when Cartwright gave evidence. Some of what the Professor had to say was very interesting.

Professor Cartwright was sworn in after lunch. Gordon stipulated to the court that the Plaintiffs found him qualified as an expert for the purposes of these proceedings. If possible, Gordon did not want the judge to find out that Davids had been a pupil of Cartwright at college, that would have immediately have given Cartwright’s evidence a note of superiority. Gordon had raised this with Ronnie beforehand, who had promised not to raise it.

“Professor Cartwright” started Ronnie, “I understand you are Dean of Far Eastern Studies at Cambridge University, with a particular emphasis on Chinese customary law. Is that correct?”

“Yes, My Lord” answered Cartwright. He was used to giving evidence in court, he had done so many times.

“You are here to give evidence on behalf of the 2nd Defendant in this trial. You are aware that Professor Davids has given similar expert evidence on behalf of the Plaintiffs.” Cartwright smiled.

“Yes indeed. Professor Davids was a student of mine at Cambridge some years ago.” Gordon exploded and stood up.

“My Lord, that is completely irrelevant, both Professors are admitted as experts in their own right by consent”, said Gordon, almost purple-faced with rage.

“My Lord”, said Ronnie, “I agree with my most learned friend, I was not aware Professor Cartwright was going to repeat the fact that Professor Davids was a student of his at one time”, rubbing it in to ensure the judge got the point.

“Mr. Stewart, I have stricken the matter from memory, and it will be deleted from the transcript”, said the judge. The damage was done though, and Ronnie knew it. He gave a faint smile. Gordon glared at him. Davids, sitting behind Gordon beside Ben, merely smiled. Mandy seemed uncomfortable and would not catch Ben’s eye.

Ronnie’s examination-in-chief continued without any further interruption. Cartwright agreed, as Leung had, that it was possible that the Tang Clan ancestors built the temple, but said that there was insufficient evidence to prove that fact. He was particularly ferocious on the physical evidence produced by the Clan, saying that he could not reach any conclusion upon ownership on the basis of the evidence produced.

Cartwright left his best evidence for the following day. He produced a number of individual cases, from the UK and around the world,where the courts had held that the temples or churches in question were the subject of charitable trusts. Gordon was aware of most of these cases, but two surprised even him. He gave Richard a quick glance. It was not good news. Cartwright went through each individual case and demonstrated the similarities with the present case. It sounded pretty convincing to Ben and Dylan.

It took Ronnie nearly two days to take Cartwright through these cases and the principles underlying them. He then turned to the other big issue, the 1924 document. As he had done on the charity issue, He produced a number of documents for the court’s attention. None of these had been produced previously in discovery. It was clearly a pre-meditated strategy, but the judge allowed the documents into evidence, to Gordon’s considerable dismay.

The documents were a series of Chinese conveyancing documents, made in the early part of the 20thth century, culminating in 1931, which were similar in manner to the 1924 document. Cartwright was able to prove, with supporting evidence, that these documents effectively transferred title of the land in question in those cases. That was the whole intention of the documents, he said, and it was quite clear that this was the intention of the 1924 document, which clearly demonstrated that the Tang Clan, if it ever did own the temple, sold it in 1924. It was powerful stuff and you could hear a pin drop. Ronnie rested his examination-in-chief on a high.

Unless Gordon can do something here, we’ve lost, thought Ben. Gordon stood up and looked at Cartwright for about thirty seconds.

“Yes, Mr. Stewart?” said the judge.

“Yes, My Lord. Mr. ...sorry, Professor Cartwright, how many times have you given evidence in the courts of Hong Kong?”

“Six times, My Lord”, replied Cartwright.

“And on those occasions, was your evidence in relation to Chinese customary law in the New Territories as relates to Clan land?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Can you recall the case of Lai Hing Wan, Professor? Two years ago?”

“Indeed I do, My Lord”

“In that case Professor, you were an expert for the Plaintiff in a similar case to this one.”

“It was not exactly the same, My Lord, but the case had similarities”, said the Professor. “The judgement is in my list of authorities I produced to the court”, said Cartwright, smugly.

“Well, sir, I have gone one better, and I have the transcript of your evidence in the High Court, the case of course having gone to appeal. I have a copy for you, Professor, one for my learned friend, and one for the judge.” They were handed out by the judge’s clerk.

“May I ask you to turn to page 35, Professor, and ask you to read for two pages, starting from that page.” The Professor did so, and Ben thought he had turned rather pale. What was going on? This had never been discussed in conference. Ben looked at Davids, who could hardly contain himself. Davids passed a note to Ben that read, ‘I dug this transcript up, should be fun!’

“You will recall Professor, that in that case there was a similar problem for the court in the matter of interpretation of documents. The interpretation of one particular document, remarkably similar to the 1924 document in this case, was in issue. Is that correct?” The Professor stared at Gordon and did not answer.

“Professor?” asked Gordon.

“Yes.”

“If you turn to page 36 of the transcript, Professor, you will see that you produced numerous examples of cases where the document in question had been held not to be a transfer of property, but simply a mere transfer of a life interest. That is to say, once the assignee died, the property reverted back to the owner. Can you see that?” An audible groan seemed to escape the Professor’s lips.

“Yes.”

“May I ask why you have not referred to those precedents in this case?” Silence from the Professor again.

“Professor?” said Gordon.

Cartwright coughed.
“My Lord, the two cases are distinguishable, if I may.”

“Please, Professor”, said the judge, looking at him carefully. Cartwright went on a long, rambling explanation of why the previous cases, which seemed to be based on virtually the same facts as this one, were in fact completely different. He fooled no- one.

“Professor Cartwright” said Gordon, “I’m not going to ask you any further questions on this topic, as I do not wish to embarrass you any further.” Ronnie stood up at once.

“My Lord, that was uncalled for on behalf of my learned friend”, shooting Gordon an angry stare.

“Let us get on, Mr. Stewart”, said the judge.

“Thank you, My Lord”, smiled Gordon. He had made his point. He cross-examined Cartwright briefly upon the Tang Clan evidence of ownership, not expecting him to budge from his previous position. He did not, but Ben felt his credibility had been shot. Gordon sat down. Ronnie tried to repair the damage in his cross-examination, but was only partially successful, if at all. Cartwright’s mood had changed, form one of smug geniality to one of aloof distain. It was not attractive and Ben was certain he would never again be called as a witness by the Government in future cases.

When Ronnie sat down, Gordon stood up.

“My Lord, it would appear that we have reached the end of the evidence. As you know, the abbot, the first defendant, has no evidence to call, relying upon the Government evidence regarding the 1924 document. As Plaintiffs, My Lord, we have to submit our final submissions to you first. My Lord, there has been a lot of evidence presented to you in this trial, and I believe that it would be of benefit to the court if written submissions were prepared and handed in to you. May I suggest that we have a week to prepare the same, My Lord. We have after all saved a week or so by not calling a number of our lay witnesses.” The judge nodded.

“Mr. Yuen?” said the judge.

“I have no argument with that, My Lord.”

“Very well”, said the judge. “We shall adjourn until next Wednesday, 2nd April. Please have your submissions handed in to my clerk by 5.00pm on Monday 31st March. Thank you.” The judge rose, as did everyone else, and left his court. The plaintiffs’ legal team piled out of court, in a state of excitement.

“Gordon”, said Dylan, “you were magnificent! You blew him away!”

“Don’t thank me, Nicholas, thank Professor Davids, he was the one who obtained the transcript!” They all turned round to Davids, who was smiling shyly.

“Is that right, Professor?” asked Ben.

“Well, yes. I seemed to recall Professor Cartwright boasting to me about two years ago of a case in Hong Kong involving Clan property, and I happened to look it up. The judgment had me wondering, as one interpretation of it was that the Professor must have given evidence in that case which would support our arguments in this case. It was impossible to tell from the judgment, so I spent all day yesterday in the library trying to find a transcript of his evidence. Luckily, I was able to find it, and it proved to be helpful to us.”

“Helpful!” said Dylan. “You can say that again, you may have won the case for us, Professor!”

“Now then, Dylan”, said Richard, “we still have the heavy burden of the charity argument to overcome. But we have a fighting chance now.”

“Too bloody right.” Dylan was bullish now. “Perhaps you were right after all, you two!” addressing Jacob and Wai.

The next week sped past, Ben’s office helping Gordon and Richard as best they could, mostly with providing copy cases from the library, or their notes of the evidence given at trial. The final submissions were received from Gordon on Monday afternoon, with just enough time to comply with the judge’s filing deadline. A copy was served upon the Government, and Ben received a copy of the Government submissions at the same time. He had a quick look through before delivering a copy to all three Counsels, there seemed to be no surprises in it. The charity aspect was well explored, as they expected. Gordon had his answer to that, but no-one could really predict on which side the judge would fall.

At the hearing on Wednesday, the judge gave both Gordon and Ronnie half a day each to supplement their written submissions. Neither side interrupted the other, and the case ended peacefully at 4.30pm. The judge said that he would try to have his written judgment ready within a month, and his clerk would let all parties know when it was ready. And that was it.

As they were leaving court, Mandy approached Ben and whispered in his ear.

“How about it, tonight?” she said. Ben considered it. There was nothing more he would like than to partake in what Mandy was clearly prepared to offer, but as the case was not technically finished, he felt that he had to decline. He whispered back accordingly. She looked disappointed.

“Next month, I promise, after judgment”, he said. “I’ll hold you to that.” She smiled and ran after Ronnie.

Ben and Dylan shook Gordon’s hand outside court. His job was now finished, he was flying back to London that night.

“Thank you so much, Gordon, fantastic job. We’ll send you a copy of the judgement when it comes out”, said Ben.

“Mr. Stewart”, said Wai, “on behalf of the Tang Clan may I also thank you very much. I guarantee your fees will be paid quickly.”

“Well, that’s the best news I’ve heard all day, Wai”, joked Gordon. “Just make sure you pay Richard and Peachey too!”

They walked Gordon and Richard to the latter’s chambers before formally saying goodbye to Gordon. Wai and Jacob left for the private Clan bus they had hired for the return journey to Fanling. Dylan said he had to rush to meet Donny again. It left Ben and Peachey alone on the street.

“Fancy a swim?” she said.
They both laughed. He nodded.

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