Hong Kong court refuses jury trial in first case under new security law
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Hong Kong court refuses jury trial in first case under new security law

The Hong Kong Court of First Instance denied a bid on Thursday for a jury trial by the first person charged under the country’s new security law, Tong Ying Kit. The court found that a trial in front of a jury is not a constitutional right and that decision from a panel of judges will not be different compared to a panel of juries.

Tong Ying Kit was charged under sections 20, 21 and 24 of the New Security Law for “incitement to secession” and “terrorist activities” after he rammed his motorcycle into several riot police officers. Tong has been in custody since last July along with 300 other protesting activists. The common charges these activists are facing are in relation to chanting protest slogans or publishing protest material online, which the Hong Kong government deems to be actions of insurrection.

This is the first case of a person charged under Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, and it shows a deviation from Hong Kong’s common law roots and a gradual inclination towards Chinese Basic Law. It is a long common law tradition in Hong Kong for the High Court (Court of Appeal and Court of Final Appeal) to have jury trials. Hon Alex Lee stated in court that the decision by Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng not to provide a jury trial is correct and she has no constitutional obligation to justify doing so. He stated that a provision in the New National Security Law has overruled the previous common law tradition for providing a jury trial to appellants facing a criminal trial in Hong Kong.

Tong is currently facing life in prison and will be facing trial on June 23. Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam has picked several judges for the case: Esther Toh Lye-ping, Anthea Pang Po-kam and Wilson Chan Ka-shun. The selected judges have past histories of taking strict and conservative approaches to criminal trials.