Hong Kong’s Department of Justice (DoJ) has appealed against a court’s decision to let a UK barrister represent media tycoon Jimmy Lai in his upcoming high-profile national security trial.

High Court Judge Jeremy Poon last month granted an application despite prosecution objections to allow King’s Counsel Timothy Owen to represent Lai at the trial scheduled to begin in December, saying it was “clearly in the public interest.”

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai. Photo: HKFP.

King’s Counsels are the equivalent of senior counsels in Hong Kong and require permission to be allowed to represent clients in the city’s courts.

The appeal was dated October 27.

The Apple Daily founder faces three national security charges: two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or external elements, and one count of collusion with foreign forces. He is also accused of one sedition offence: conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications.

Collusion with foreign forces carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Owen did “not have or profess to have expertise or experience in issues concerning the construction or application” of the security law and national security offences, wrote Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu in the application filed on behalf of the DoJ last week.

Yu also said that Poon “erred in his consideration” for ruling that Owen would “undoubtedly add a significant dimension to the case” because of his “undisputed expertise and experience as a specialist in criminal and human rights law.”

Timothy Owen KC
Timothy Owen KC. Photo: Matrix Chambers.

“In the circumstances, [Timothy Owen] is not shown to be able to add a significant dimension to the case or the jurisprudence on the interpretation or application of [the national security law] and sedition offence,” Yu wrote.

The DoJ also said that there was “substantial experience” within the Hong Kong Bar to handle issues around the constitutionality of the sedition law, and the fact that there was a challenge to its constitutionality did not justify the “ad hoc admission” of Owen.

The possibility that legal issues arising from the case might end up in the Court of Appeal or the Court of Final Appeal should not have been relevant in Poon’s considerations, wrote Yu.

The 74-year-old Lai has been remanded in custody since December 2020. He has since been sentenced to prison over other protest-related cases.

Six other defendants in the national security and sedition cases, who were former employees of Apple Daily or its parent company Next Digital, have pleaded guilty.

Correction 17:00: Owing to an editing error, a previous version of this article said that the writ was filed on October 22. The writ was dated October 27.

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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.