Hong Kong’s Court of Appeals Monday dismissed a bid by prosecutors to prevent Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media entrepreneur charged with violating the controversial National Security Law (NSL), from having a UK barrister on his legal defense team. In October, Lai pleaded not guilty on NSL collusion charges.
Under the NSL, a jury trial can be excluded for the need “to protect state secrets” or the safety of members of the jury and their families. Prosecutors argued that Lai should similarly be refused overseas counsel “to protect state secrets.” Prosecutors contended that the admission of overseas counsel in cases involving national security is incompatible with the “overall objective and design of the NSL.” Prosecutors further contended that there was no means of enforcement of overseas counsel’s confidentiality obligations, and that it was the duty of Hong Kong’s judiciary, under NSL 3, to “prevent, suppress and impose punishment for any act or activity endangering national security, which includes any possible attempt to use the legal process to compromise the protection of national security.”
The court rejected prosecutor’s arguments, finding that appropriate safeguards exist, that state secrets were not implicated in Lai’s case, and that “overseas learning and the contribution of overseas counsel in this new area of the law in Hong Kong should have a role to play in the development of our own jurisprudence on national security.”
Lai and his media company Apple Daily are charged with violating China’s NSL. Specifically, Lai is charged with conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and conspiracy to publish seditious material. The NSL is infamous for its 100 percent conviction rate. Lai is already serving a prison sentence in Hong Kong for his participation in a vigil commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and fraud.
Lai’s trial on the collusion charges is scheduled to begin on December 1.