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Beijing To Rule On Hong Kong’s Fight Over Foreign Lawyers

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Beijing To Rule On Hong Kong's Fight Over Foreign Lawyers

(CTN NEWS) – Beijing – After the territory’s top court rejected the government’s attempt to stop a British barrister from representing imprisoned media billionaire Jimmy Lai.

Hong Kong’s leader John Lee has urged Beijing to rule on whether foreign attorneys can act on national security issues.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) in China is anticipated to issue a decision in the case “as soon as feasible,” according to Lee, who stated this during a news conference on Tuesday.

Lee did not say, however, if this would be before the start of Lai’s trial on Thursday.

Lee said that Hong Kong authorities were attempting to postpone the commencement of Lai’s historic national security trial. Lai was the editor-in-chief of the now-defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily.

His plea for Beijing’s involvement will be just the sixth occasion of China’s top legislative body interfering in legal disputes in Hong Kong.

Beijing To Rule On Hong Kong's Fight Over Foreign Lawyers

An ex-British colony meant to enjoy judicial independence from Beijing as part of the “one country, two systems” agreement.

The Court of Final Appeal rejected the government’s attempt to exclude British attorney Timothy Owen from the case and put a “blanket ban” on foreign attorneys working on national security cases.

Lee, though, contended that Beijing’s assistance was required in part due to the possibility that a foreign counsel could reveal state secrets or be tainted by a foreign government.

According to Lee, “there is no practical way to guarantee that a foreign counsel won’t have a conflict of interest due to his nationality.”

Additionally, there is no way to confirm that he hasn’t been pressured, corrupted, or otherwise controlled by foreign countries, organizations, or people.

After months of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong the previous year, Beijing enforced the comprehensive national security law on the city in June 2020.

The law, which imposes up to a life sentence in jail for acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and coordination with foreign forces, has drawn strong criticism from Western countries and human rights organizations.

Cases of National Security

Lai is among the most well-known critics of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, including Xi Jinping, in Hong Kong.

He is charged with sedition and two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign governments about his Apple Daily newspaper, which was shut down in June 2021 following a police raid and a freeze on its assets.

The 74-year-old was detained in December 2020 and is currently completing a 20-month prison term for participating in illegal meetings.

Additionally, he anticipates receiving a sentence for his fraud conviction next month.

Owen is a seasoned attorney specializing in criminal and human rights law in London. The common law system used in Hong Kong is the same as that in the United Kingdom.

Legal experts expressed concern that the public would lose faith in Hong Kong’s judicial independence due to the appeal to Beijing.

Alvin Cheung, an assistant law professor at Queen’s University in Canada, says, “What we’ve seen with interpretations is simply, ‘Heads I win, tails you lose.”

Cheung was a member of the team that wrote a legal study in May that named NPCSC interpretations as one of the primary threats to Hong Kong’s rule of law.

Former British justice secretary Robert Buckland and retired Australian high court judge Michael Kirby endorsed the report.

“The NPCSC is a political (and democratic) institution whose proceedings are conducted behind closed doors without the presence of the parties to the litigation.

Its judgments include little to no explanation and are driven more by political reasons than by legal analysis,” according to the legal opinion.

Lawyers from other common law jurisdictions are permitted to practice in Hong Kong’s courts in addition to having foreign judges there, particularly when certain situations call for their competence.

The lower court authorized Owen to defend Lai last month, finding that having a renowned international expert present throughout the trial was in the public interest.

The Department of Justice’s application was denied by the Court of Final Appeal on technical grounds in its final decision, which was issued on Monday.

The Department of Justice was criticized by a panel of three judges on the top court, including Chief Justice Andrew Cheung and Roberto Ribeiro.

And Joseph Fok for “raising undefined and unproven matters purported to involve national security which was not raised or explored in the Courts below.”

However, they didn’t address whether barristers from other countries should, in general, be barred from cases involving national security.

On Monday, legal professionals and rights organizations raised to worry about Lee’s choice to seek Beijing to step in.

According to Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, the former dean of the Faculty of Statute at the University of Hong Kong, Lee’s action “is the creation of a new norm rather than an interpretation of an existing law.”

He told the South China Morning Post that any interpretation of the passage might have “far-reaching ramifications” and “seriously damage Hong Kong as an international metropolis.”

Reporters Without Borders also criticized Lee’s action and urged the Hong Kong government to give Lai a choice in representation.

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