Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s request to hire a lawyer from the UK has been opposed by the justice minister and a barristers’ group, as the national security trial against the founder of defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily is set to begin in December.

Lai, 74, did not appear in court on Friday because of a “medical condition,” High Court Judge Esther Toh, who presided over the session along with Judges Susana D’Almada Remedios and Alex Lee, said.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai. Photo: HKFP.

The media tycoon faces four charges: two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or external elements, one count of collusion with foreign forces, and one count of conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications.

Lai’s trial is set to begin on December 1, with six other former employees of Next Digital and Apple Daily set to plead guilty in the case.

Three companies – Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited – stand accused of the same conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces and conspiracy to print seditious publications charges.

Toh said that the court would not entertain any application to adjourn the trial over the dispute of journalistic materials, and urged both parties to adhere to deadlines to file submissions.

The 74-year-old filed an appeal against the court’s decision to uphold a national security search warrant, which would allow the police to look into journalistic materials, usually protected from police search and seize, on his two phones.

The police commissioner also disputed over 8,000 claims of journalistic or legally privileged materials made by Lai.

Senior Counsel Robert Pang said that following a ruling from High Court Judge Wilson Chan on Friday morning, a “substantial” of materials deemed as not journalistic or legally privileged could be released and reviewed by the police.

High Court
High Court. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The prosecution, represented by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (Special Duties) Anthony Chau, said on Friday that they would try their best to include any evidence found on Lai’s phone during trial, and said that he hoped that the defence “will not complain about the last-minute filing” of the evidence.

King’s Counsel

Pang also revealed in court that Lai’s team had applied to hire a senior trial lawyer from the King’s Counsel in the UK for his case. King’s Counsels, the equivalent of senior counsels in Hong Kong, must be granted permission before they are allowed to represent clients in Hong Kong courts.

However, Pang said that the application was opposed both by the secretary for justice and the Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA), and that the team was still waiting for the court’s decision.

The Department of Justice told HKFP on Friday evening that it “will not comment on individual cases which are subject of court proceedings.”

The HKBA told HKFP that “the well established criteria for admitting overseas counsel on an ad hoc basis are not met.”

“Counsel for the HKBA will make full submissions to the Court in the relevant application,” HKBA’s response read.

Lai was remanded in custody in December 2020, and has since been sentenced to 20 months in prison over other protest-related cases.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.