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Thursday, Feb 02, 2023

John Lee to ask Beijing's interpretation on foreign lawyers' involvement in national security cases

John Lee to ask Beijing's interpretation on foreign lawyers' involvement in national security cases

The government will ask China's top legislative body to interpret the city’s national security law on whether foreign lawyers can be involved in national security cases, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said on Monday.
This came after the Court of Final Appeal dismissed an appeal by the Justice Department to overturn an earlier court decision allowing a British lawyer to defend media tycoon Jimmy Lai in his upcoming national security trial.

Lee stressed that asking National People's Congress Standing Committee to rule on the matter is not directed against overseas lawyers or barristers, but those who have no attaining right to full practice in Hong Kong.

When questioned by reporters that Hong Kong residents shall have the right to choose their lawyers for the protection of their lawful rights and interests, Lee replied it is only the case for choosing eligible legal professionals who obtained the practising qualifications in Hong Kong.

Under the existing system, the government is powerless to prevent overseas lawyers from being subject to “dubious interference” or ensure they keep state secrets, Lee added.

"There is no effective means to ensure that a counsel from overseas will not have a conflict of interest because of his nationality. And there is also no means to ensure he has not been coerced, compromised or in any way controlled by foreign governments, associations or persons," he said.

Lee pointed out that the government is also seeking adjournment for the start of Lai's trial. The case is slated to begin on Dec. 1.

This would be the first time the Standing Committee has offered an interpretation of the national security law, which was passed in 2020 by the committee and endorsed by President Xi Jinping, without public debate or a vote by Hong Kong’s elected legislature.

The Standing Committee has offered five interpretations of Hong Kong’s Basic Law -- its mini constitution -- since the UK handed the city back in 1997. The last was in 2016, when China’s top legislative body said those who voice separatist views couldn’t hold public office.

The ruling effectively blocked two elected “localists” from taking their seats in the Hong Kong’s legislature.
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