When the Chinese government imposed sanctions on London-based Essex Court Chambers and some of its barristers last month there was outcry for several reasons.

That a major nation would take such a step against lawyers, who had published a legal opinion about alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, was viewed as an attack on the U.K. legal industry. But the response of the barristers’ set in question has also provoked fierce criticism from London lawyers who accuse it of effectively backing down in the dispute.