A Hong Kong court has dismissed an attempt by jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai to overturn a decision barring his British lawyer from representing him in an upcoming trial under the national security law. Lai had sought a judicial review after Hong Kong’s National Security Committee ruled that allowing barrister Timothy Owen to represent Lai could pose risks to national security. The committee advised against approving Owen’s visa application.
In Hong Kong, the use of foreign lawyers has long been permitted. However, recent changes empower the city’s leader to prohibit foreign lawyers from national security cases. In December, China’s legislature issued a ruling allowing such bans.
In rejecting Lai’s challenge Friday, Chief Judge Jeremy Poon wrote that Hong Kong courts have no oversight over the National Security Committee (NSC). Under the security law imposed by China in 2020, the courts have no authority over the committee, Poon said.
“The duties and functions of the NSC … are matters well beyond the … courts’ institutional capacity,” Poon wrote in his ruling.
Lai’s lawyer had argued that without judicial review of the NSC, “Hong Kong is saying goodbye to a huge chunk of our rule of law.”
The ruling comes amid concerns over Hong Kong’s press freedoms, which have fallen dramatically in international rankings in recent years. However, the Hong Kong government says press freedom remains protected, and foreign interference in the city’s judicial proceedings will not be tolerated.