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Friday, Dec 08, 2023

Committee backs ban on overseas lawyers in national security cases

Committee backs ban on overseas lawyers in national security cases

Committee for Safeguarding National Security says it supports a legal change ‘as soon as possible’.

A high-level committee set up to oversee national security policy in Hong Kong has cleared the way for the government to change the law to prevent British lawyer Timothy Owen from appearing for media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying in his collusion trial.

The Committee for Safeguarding National Security said after its Wednesday meeting that it “supports the government to introduce amendments to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance as soon as possible”.

The committee’s statement said the move was to “handle the matter concerning the participation of overseas lawyers who are not qualified to practice generally in Hong Kong in cases involving national security issues”.

The committee, headed by Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, and with Luo Huining, the director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, as an adviser, also said it would “fully fulfil the obligations” of following up on the work set out in the interpretation of the national security law last month by China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee in session over Hong Kong’s national security legislation.

Lai’s trial was set for last month but adjourned to September after Lee asked for Beijing’s interpretation of the national security law in the wake of a failed legal bid at the Court of Final Appeal to ban London-based barrister Owen from representing Lai.

It was the first time Beijing had interpreted the security legislation since it was imposed on Hong Kong in June 2020.

The standing committee clarified two clauses of the law and said Article 47 of the legislation governed whether overseas lawyers could take up sensitive cases and required the chief executive’s input.

The courts should obtain a certificate from the city leader to verify whether an offence involved national security or if the evidence featured state secrets when such questions arose in the adjudication of a case, it said.

The top body added that the city’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security could step in and make a decision under Article 14 if the courts failed to make a request for a certificate.

Article 14 says the city’s committee was tasked with “advancing the development of the legal system and enforcement mechanisms of [Hong Kong] for safeguarding national security”, among its other roles.

Lee earlier indicated it was also proposed to amend the Legal Practitioners Ordinance.

Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman Maria Tam Wai-chiu also floated the idea that a blanket ban should be imposed on foreign lawyers taking on Hong Kong national security cases.

The Post reported earlier this month that the Hong Kong government aimed to pass the legislative amendment “in months” to prevent Owen from defending Lai on collusion with foreign forces charges in September.

It was learned that the government would change the law so overseas counsel not normally able to practice in Hong Kong would not be allowed to apply for one-off permission to appear in cases that involved national security.

“The government will not rush it through as it respects lawmakers’ input. It hopes to get the amendment bill passed in months,” a source said at the time.


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