SAR requested clarification on foreign lawyers engaging in national security case
Hong Kong's Department of Justice on Tuesday applied to postpone the trial of Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's national security case, pending the legal interpretation from the standing committee of the nation's top legislature to clarify whether overseas lawyers who are not qualified to practice generally in the city can engage in national security cases.
Lai, founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, is charged with collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security, and three other offenses. His trial, to be heard by three judges designated to handle national security cases, was scheduled to begin on Thursday.
By press time, the city's judiciary had not responded to the SAR government's adjournment application.
On Monday, the Court of Final Appeal, the city's top court, allowed Lai to hire British King's Counsel Timothy Owen to defend him in the trial. Following that, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu requested the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to issue an interpretation in accordance with Article 65 of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, to make it clear the conditions for overseas lawyers to engage in national security cases in the city.
Speaking before an Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lee said that it is in the best interest of the case and the city to have the NPCSC interpret the law, and the NPCSC's interpretation can help strengthen the mechanism to safeguard national security from different aspects.
Lee said the central government attaches great importance to the national security report he submitted on Monday, and that he believes the NPCSC will deal with the report as soon as possible. He stressed that lawyers qualified to practice in Hong Kong will not be affected.
In response to media queries, the city's judiciary said that it respects the SAR government's request for an interpretation of the NSL, adding that the power of interpretation of this law is vested in the NPCSC, according to Article 65 of the NSL.
The judiciary spokesman added that the NSL has an overriding effect on the local laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as Article 62 stipulates that the NSL shall prevail where provisions of the HKSAR laws are inconsistent with the law.
Victor Dawes, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, said on Tuesday that the government's request was made in accordance with the city's current legal mechanism and it will not undermine Hong Kong's judicial independence.
Dawes said he believes if the NPCSC responded to the request and made an interpretation, it will not affect Lai's right of hiring professional legal experts in Hong Kong, as Lai has already formed a team of experienced lawyers to defend him.
The Bar Association believes that Hong Kong's courts and the legal sector will continue on their mission of protecting national security and upholding the rule of law, Dawes said.
Maria Tam Wai-chu, deputy director of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Basic Law Committee under the NPCSC, believes the chief executive's move will help clarify the NSL's legislative intent and its relationship with other local laws, and also prevent external meddling in Hong Kong affairs.
Xi Tianqicontributed to this story.
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