Hong Kong court rules activist Jimmy Lai’s conspiracy charge within time limit News
© WikiMedia (Shuim Wiang Yamio)
Hong Kong court rules activist Jimmy Lai’s conspiracy charge within time limit

The Hong Kong High Court ruled against Jimmy Lai in his challenge against the court’s jurisdiction to hear the charge of conspiracy to sedition on Friday. The court ruled that the prosecution pressed the charge within the time limit because the alleged conspiracy to sedition was a continuing act, and the time limit only commenced after the cessation of the conspiracy. The trial continues on January 2.

Lai’s trial began on December 18. Lai’s counsel sought to challenge the court’s lack of jurisdiction to hear the case since the prosecution failed to comply with the six-month time bar imposed on the prosecution pursuant to section 11 of the Crimes Ordinance. The defence counsel argued that a conspiracy is consummated upon the commission of the first substantive offence pursuant to the conspiracy, and the time limit started running upon the commission of that first substantive offence. The defence also put forward an alternative argument that even if the time limit started running on the cessation of conspiracy, the limitation period still expired before the defendant’s first appearance in court.

The court rejected both arguments. The court held that the limitation period for conspiracy only started running at the end of the alleged continuing act. The court also held that the time-bar section serves to ensure the prompt commencement of prosecution. The prosecution satisfied its duty by indicating its intention to charge with reasonable particulars of the alleged offence in writing to the court and requiring the prosecution to ensure that the defendant’s first appearance in court within six months was not the prosecution’s responsibility and was not the intention of the Legislature.

Apart from the charge in question, Lai was also charged with one count of collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security and two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign countries. Previously, Lai applied for a permanent stay of proceedings, but the court rejected it. Lai’s counsel contended that the Chief Executive exercising their power under Article 44 of the National Security Law to designate judges constituted an abuse of process executively. The defence counsel also challenged that the virtually unfettered discretion to designate judges contravenes a right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law, provided by Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Lai also sought to challenge the High Court’s judgment, holding that the decisions made by the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR are amenable to judicial review. Therefore, Lai argued that the court has jurisdiction to overrule the Committee’s decision to bar Tim Owen KC from representing Lai.

Previously, Lai was convicted of fraud by subletting a portion of the Apple Daily building to another building he owned. He was currently serving a sentence of nearly six years for the fraud charges on top of his 20-month prison sentence for his participation in a vigil commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Last month, Catholic Church leaders from various countries petitioned for Lai’s release, and later, the Hong Kong government accused them of making slanderous statements about Hong Kong and inappropriately intervening in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.