Flap in Hong Kong over UK lawyer

Flap in Hong Kong over UK lawyer

Influential Beijing loyalists decry court decision allowing tycoon Jimmy Lai to hire British counsel

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai walks to a prison van to attend a court hearing, after being charged under the national security law in Hong Kong in December 2020. (Reuters File Photo)
Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai walks to a prison van to attend a court hearing, after being charged under the national security law in Hong Kong in December 2020. (Reuters File Photo)

HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court’s decision to allow a senior British lawyer to represent jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has sparked a chorus of condemnation from powerful Beijing loyalist voices.

Lai and a group of executives from the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper are being prosecuted for “colluding with foreign forces”, an offence under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to quash dissent.

The High Court agreed to let Lai be represented by London-based lawyer Tim Owen — overruling the objections of the secretary for justice and the Bar Association — and the decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday.

Former Hong Kong leader CY Leung on Thursday called the ruling “absurd”, saying that the courts were wrong to look to the West for guidance.

“We are inviting the Brits to ‘develop’ the national security law for Hong Kong,” Leung wrote on Facebook. “Does Hong Kong need to follow ‘internationally adopted judicial standards’ in questions of China’s national security?”

Leung, who is also a vice-chairman of China’s main political advisory body, added that the local legal profession had been “slapped in the face” by the judges.

Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, two newspapers that answer to Beijing’s office in Hong Kong, both ran articles on Thursday quoting government supporters who criticised the court rulings.

Owen may bring “Western viewpoints” that create “bias and unfairness”, lawyer Christopher Wong was quoted as saying Wen Wei Po.

Officials have long touted Hong Kong’s common law legal system — and the ability of lawyers and judges from such jurisdictions to operate in the city — as a major draw for its international reputation.

Last year, the Department of Justice sought to hire British lawyer David Perry to prosecute Lai and other democracy activists in a separate protest-related case.

When Perry pulled out following a backlash in Britain, former leader Leung was among those who condemned that decision.

The Hong Kong government called the backlash against Perry “ill-informed criticism”.

Owen is a king’s counsel in Britain and has worked in the Hong Kong courts, including representing a police officer who appealed a conviction for assaulting a democracy protester in 2014.

The Department of Justice told AFP it is reviewing the court’s judgement and considering next steps.

That could include taking the case to the Court of Final Appeal.

But above that court sits Beijing’s Standing Committee, which can issue an “interpretation” on any constitutional or national security issue as it sees fit.

In a related development, a Hong Kong woman who waved a colonial-era flag while watching a public broadcast of the Tokyo Olympics became the first person to be jailed for insulting China’s national anthem.

Paula Leung, 42, pleaded guilty to insulting March of the Volunteers when it was played after Hong Kong fencer Edgar Cheung won a gold medal, according to the South China Morning Post.

Leung waved a colonial-era Hong Kong flag as the medal ceremony was shown on a shopping mall’s big screen in July 2021, the court heard.

A magistrate said the defendant had seriously disparaged the anthem and damaged the country’s dignity, the Post reported.

Hong Kong passed legislation in 2020 banning insults to China’s national anthem.

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