British foreign secretary Dominic Raab owed a prominent Queen’s Counsel an apology for calling him “mercenary” and claiming he was giving Beijing a “PR coup” by trying nine Hong Kong opposition figures, the city’s former top prosecutor said on Monday.
Former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross believed Raab had accused David Perry QC of acting at the behest of Beijing without knowing the trial was unrelated to the national security law.
Raab made his comments after the High Court gave approval for the veteran barrister to lead the prosecution of media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and eight others for their alleged roles in an anti-government rally in 2019, long before the security law was adopted.
“I don’t understand how anyone of good conscience, from the world-leading legal profession that we have, would take a case where they will have to apply the national security legislation at the behest of the authorities in Beijing, which is directly violating, undermining the freedom of the people of Hong Kong,” Raab said in an interview with British media.
“I understand in the case of Mr Perry, in relation to the pro-democracy activists, and of course from Beijing’s point of view, this would be a serious PR coup … Frankly, I think people watching this would regard it as pretty mercenary to be taking up that kind of case.”
The Post has contacted Perry and Hong Kong’s Department of Justice for comment.
Cross found it “regrettable” Raab had impugned Perry’s integrity without knowing the coming trial was unrelated to the security law. He believed the foreign secretary was prepared to criticise the legal heavyweight on the basis of an “erroneous” scenario.
“Raab owes Perry an unreserved apology,” Cross said. “His remarks are not only foolish, but also flawed; they smack of grandstanding, rather than reason.”
Instead of worrying about the trial’s outcome, Raab should feel relieved the prosecution of the nine would be in the hands of an “eminent” barrister, Cross said.
“In the best traditions of the English Bar, Perry will be scrupulously fair at trial and he will ensure that there is a just outcome,” he added.
The case against the nine concerns a demonstration in Causeway Bay on August 18, 2019, when protesters defied police and turned an approved assembly inside Victoria Park in Causeway Bay into an illegal march to Central.
The nine, including veteran pan-democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming and annual Tiananmen Square vigil organiser Lee Cheuk-yan, were charged jointly with two offences under the Public Order Ordinance: organising an unauthorised assembly; and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.
Eight have pleaded not guilty, arguing their constitutional right to take part in assemblies had been violated.
The national security law, which bans secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, came into force on June 30 last year.
Overseas barristers must have approval from the High Court to practise on an ad hoc basis. The green light is often reserved for complex cases in which local judges may benefit from the help of talented legal minds from abroad.
High Court Chief Judge Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor said Perry’s involvement could bring a valuable perspective to the present proceedings.
The Bar Association has objected to Perry’s role, saying the Department of Justice had made no efforts to engage local leading counsel and that the legal issues involved were not unusually difficult.
Perry was involved in the prosecution of a number of high-profile cases in Hong Kong, including the misconduct case of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2017 and 2018, and the bribery case of former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan and the leadership and staff of Sun Hung Kai Properties in 2014.
The trial of the nine will open at the District Court on February 16.