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Melville Boase - the People's Lawyer

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In an outstanding legal career spanning more than three decades, Melville Boase (LLB Hons, 1965) has worked tirelessly to save hundreds of Filipino migrants from prosecution and deplorable working conditions.

Mel first became aware of the problem when he left the UK in the late 1970s to become a Crown Counsel in the Hong Kong Attorney General’s Chambers. At the time, Hong Kong had a high proportion of Filipino migrant workers who had come to the country to earn money to support their families back home.

However, Hong Kong immigration officials developed the ‘Two-week Rule’ - supposedly to protect the local labour market - which meant that migrant domestic workers were forbidden from changing jobs in the first two years of employment, could not work for multiple workers and had to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of the termination of their contract in order to avoid criminal prosecution.

The Rule encouraged a corrupt labour market, where employers could potentially exploit workers with low or unpaid wages, difficult working and living conditions, long hours and even abusive conditions, including violence and sexual assault.

Mel’s own domestic worker started bringing friends to the house so that he could offer them legal advice, then in 1980, he was introduced to two missionaries from the Philippines who were starting the Mission for Migrant Workers Society. Mel joined them as counsel and treasurer in 1981 and they have been referring pro-bono cases to him ever since.

And when he isn’t fighting for the rights of domestic workers, Mel also works for the firm he established in June 1985, now called Boase Cohen & Collins.

“As a company we deal with a wide range of cases - anything from crime, commercial agreements and immigration to marriages, divorces and wills,” he said. “I was also a member of the Inland Revenue Board of Review for nine years, and a member of the Hong Kong Law Society Criminal Law Review committee for nearly 10 years.”

And despite having no plans to return to the UK, Mel has managed to maintain his connections with the University as an active member of the University of Liverpool Graduate Association (Hong Kong), an organisation set up to promote the welfare of all graduates of the University in Hong Kong and China.

The group facilitate social, educational and cultural activities between past and present students, and raise funds to provide financial assistance for students to study at Liverpool and to support charitable giving.

He has also entered into a horse racing syndicate with a group of his fellow China-based alumni, who jointly-own the aptly named ‘Liver Bird’.

“I have some great memories of my time at Liverpool,” he said. “I lived in Derby Hall for my first two years (the second year as Hall Librarian), then in third year I moved to digs in Knotty Ash. Even though I graduated more than 40 years ago now I can still remember the characters in the Law Faculty, which was then in Melly House on Abercromby Square, and the walk to and from Dale Hall, which in those days was separate accommodation for the sexes!”

After he graduated, he spent a year studying and travelling around Brazil, then 12 years later he moved to Hong Kong having got married, had two children and qualified as a solicitor. Now 65 years old, he has been working in the country for 32 years.

“Because I‘m now working as a consultant, it means that I still go to the office every day, but I have more time to do pro-bono work and not look at a time sheet,” he said.

“I did try retirement, but after two months of trying to find something to do I realised that meeting people and trying to solve their problems is much more satisfying!”