Professor Philip St. John Smart (1961-2008)

Professor Philip St. John Smart (1961-2008)
Harold Hsiao-Wo Lee Professor in Corporate Law
Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong

Our friend and colleague Professor Philip St. John Smart passed away prematurely and unexpectedly on 17 June 2008.

Philip graduated with first class honours from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 1982, followed by an LLM in 1983. He was a Hardwick Scholar at Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1984. Following his call, he served as a researcher at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law and lectured at SOAS until moving to Hong Kong.

Philip was one of the longest serving colleagues in the Faculty of Law. He joined the University of Hong Kong in September 1985 and was admitted to the Hong Kong Bar in September 1986. He was then in his early 20s and from day one he seemed mature beyond his years. His advice and ability to solve problems, however complex, was unerringly good. He was offered substantive terms in 1987, but in 1989 nearly left HKU for the Bar in London. Fortunately for us, he decided at the last minute to remain and in 1990 he was promoted to Senior Lecturer. In January 2006, he was promoted to Professor and soon after was named the inaugural Harold Hsiao-Wo Lee Professor in Corporate Law.

Philip was a great teacher, a committed graduate student supervisor, a valued mentor and a first class scholar. Generations of lawyers and law students have benefited from his incisive analysis of law and his stimulating style of teaching. His first article, published in the Law Quarterly Review in 1983, addressed conflict of laws – a theme to which, in addition to company law and insolvency, he remained dedicated throughout his career. He rapidly established himself as one of the world’s leading authorities on cross-border insolvency. His book Cross-Border Insolvency was groundbreaking, cited in the highest courts of the common law world, including Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Australia. At the time of his death, he was working on its third edition. His research, published in the leading journals around the world, was erudite, always on point, provocative and interesting. He was recognized internationally for his substantial scholarship and was a Member, by invitation, of the International Insolvency Institute.

Philip was a passionate supporter of the Arsenal Football Club, a low single figure handicap golfer in his youth, a cat lover, a bon vivant who preferred Burgundy and an eclectic reader of biographies, history, science fiction and whatever else took his fancy. Yet his professional love was that of law.

He was honest both personally and intellectually. He spoke and wrote without fear or favour. He was a loyal friend and colleague who would not hesitate to give of himself if needed. In every facet of academic life – down to administration of which he was undoubtedly not fond – he had huge ability, was loved by students, and admired and respected by colleagues. As a lawyer, he had that rare ability to be all of: one who could distil principles from the most complex problems, handle them with great technical expertise, and come up with practical (and often straightforward) solutions (which only appeared so after he had pointed them out). And Philip was legitimately funny, not raucously so, but in a quiet understated manner.

Philip was not only a close friend but also one of AIIFL’s strongest supporters, having been a founding Fellow and former Deputy Director. Our shocking sense of loss, we know, will be felt by many of you also.

Philip’s premature departure is a great loss to the Faculty, to the University, and to the Hong Kong and international legal communities, and we know the loss will be felt for a long time. As a colleague, as a friend, Philip will be remembered and missed.

Professor Andrew J. Halkyard
Professor Charles D. Booth
Dr Douglas W. Arner