Hong Kong leader John Lee has asked Beijing to rule on whether foreign lawyers can work on national security cases.
Monday’s request comes after Hong Kong’s top court rejected a proposal by the city’s Justice Department to block a British lawyer representing jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai.
Pro-democracy campaigner faces collusion charges landmark national security case that’s due to start on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters hours after the Court of Final Appeal issued its ruling, Lee said he would ask the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China to explain the matter and that the government seeking to delay the start is “appropriate”. Lai’s trial.
Lee’s move will be only the sixth instance of China’s top legislature weighing legal issues in Hong Kong, a former British colony, under the “one country, two systems” agreement. ”, which is guaranteed judicial independence from Beijing.
“There is no effective measure to ensure that an adviser from abroad will not have a conflict of interest because of his nationality,” Lee told reporters. “And there is also no way to guarantee that he is not coerced, compromised or controlled in any way by a foreign government, association or individual.”
Lee also said there is no way to guarantee foreign lawyers won’t disclose state secrets that might appear in a national security trial.
Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong in June 2020 after sometimes violent protests rocked the city for months the previous year. Legislation – punishing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with life imprisonment – has been enacted. widely condemned by Western governments and human rights groups.
National security cases
Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent critics of China’s Communist Party leadership, including Xi Jinping, faces two counts of conspiracy to collude with a foreign country, as well as charges Instigating sedition related to his Apple Daily was forced to close in 2016. June 2021 following a police raid and freezing of its assets.
The 74-year-old man, arrested in December 2020, was serve a sentence of 20 months in prison for his role in unauthorized assemblies. He is also expecting a judgment for himself Conviction of fraud the next month.
The lawyer in Lai’s national security case is Timothy Owen, a veteran lawyer in London who specializes in criminal and human rights law.
Hong Kong uses the same common law jurisdiction as the UK.
In addition to having foreign judges in city courts, attorneys from other common law jurisdictions can work within the city’s legal system, particularly where their expertise is needed. for some cases.
However, the Hong Kong Ministry of Justice has repeatedly tried to prevent Owen from representing Lai.
Last month, a lower court approved him to represent Lai, saying it was in the public interest to invite a prominent overseas expert to participate in the trial. And on Monday, the Court of Appeals finally made its final judgment on the matter, dismissing the Justice Department’s application on technical grounds.
The three-judge panel on the supreme court — Chief Justices Andrew Cheung, Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok — in a written ruling criticized the Justice Department for “raising unspecified and unspecified issues.” grounds deemed to be of concern to national security which are not mentioned or explored in the Courts below”.
But they remain open to the overarching question of whether lawyers from abroad should in principle be excluded from national security cases.
Legal experts and human rights groups on Monday expressed concern about Lee’s decision to ask Beijing to intervene in Lai’s case.
Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, former dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, said Lee’s move “is in fact creating a new rule rather than an interpretation of existing law. “There are far-reaching implications in any such interpretation that could seriously affect Hong Kong as a cosmopolitan city,” he told the South China Morning Post.
Reporters Without Borders also criticized Lee’s move, calling on the Hong Kong government to allow Lai to represent his own choice.
– RSF (@RSF_inter) November 28, 2022