Jimmy Lai Chee-ying right, front instigator of the Hong Kong riots, leaves a police station after being granted bail in south China's Hong Kong, February 28, 2020. XINHUA Prominent Hong Kong political and legal figures said that the special administrative region would face a grave national security risk if media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was allowed to have a UK barrister as his counsel in his upcoming trial.
In October, the High Court approved Lai's bid to hire British King's Counsel Timothy Owen as his defense lawyer. Under the National Security Law for Hong Kong, Lai is charged with colluding with foreign forces.
On Friday, the Court of Final Appeal will hear an application for leave of appeal from the Department of Justice, which is trying to overturn the decision of the lower court.
Lai will be tried on four charges, including conspiracy to seek foreign sanctions on China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, on December 1.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said that Lai's case will inevitably involve evidence of foreign interference in Hong Kong's affairs, especially from the United Kingdom and the United States.
Using a UK barrister to represent Lai in his upcoming trial would lead to controversy and be considered unfair by many, regardless of the final trial result, Lau said.
Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok, a barrister and chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, said that a non-local lawyer from a foreign country who is defending a case involving the National Security Law would pose serious national security risks.
The lawyers can expose State secrets to the public when they return to their home countries, affecting national security. It is hard to hold them accountable, Ma said.
Lawyer Nicholas Chan Hiu-fung, who is also a Hong Kong Deputy to the National People's Congress, said it was not in the best interest of the public to have a foreign lawyer or a lawyer not familiar with Hong Kong handling a case like this.
This is particularly true when a person is not familiar with the civil law system under which the National Security Law, promulgated by the Standing Committee on the National People's Congress, the nation's top legislature, was written, Chan said.
It raises questions on how much a foreign counsel can help the defendant's case and what he might incur if he leaks State secrets, Chan said.
It also runs against the intent of the National Security Law to allow someone access to State secrets and leave without the supervision of the country.
The decision of allowing Owen to represent Lai in his trial shows that the lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding worries that human rights may prevail over national security. It is worrying to see that such a decision has overly emphasized so-called human rights while disregarding the importance of national security and the background and spirit of China's national security legislation, Chow said.
Willy Fu Kin-chi, a law professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said lawyers may have access to State secrets in the process of handling National Security Law cases.
He said that if the court trusts the integrity of overseas lawyers, it precludes the risk of leaks that could harm national security by allowing overseas lawyers to represent defendants in cases related to the National Security Law.