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Hong Kong to ask Beijing to rule on foreign lawyers’ involvement in national security cases


HONG KONG: The Hong Kong government will ask China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee to rule on whether foreign lawyers can be involved in national security cases, the city’s leader John Lee said on Monday (Nov 28).

Lee’s announcement came hours after Hong Kong’s top court ruled that a British lawyer could represent pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai in a national security trial, rejecting an appeal by the government to bar foreign lawyers from such cases.

Lai is perhaps Hong Kong’s most prominent critic of China’s Communist Party leaders including Xi Jinping, and Hong Kong’s Department of Justice made repeated attempts to block British barrister, Timothy Owen, from representing him.

The trial is set to start on Dec 1, and is expected to last about 30 days.

At a hearing last Friday, a lawyer representing the government, Rimsky Yuen, had told the Court of Final Appeal that the government is seeking a “blanket ban” on foreign lawyers handling national security cases, except in exceptional circumstances.

Yuen argued that cases involving such a “unique” piece of legislation as the national security law required someone familiar with the national security of China, and that an overseas lawyer “would not be in a position” to do so.

But the panel of three judges; Chief Justice Andrew Cheung, Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok, in a written judgment, criticised the Justice Department for “raising undefined and unsubstantiated issues said to involve national security which were not mentioned or explored in the Courts below”.

“Accordingly, we dismiss the application.”

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