Hong Kong’s Department of Justice (DoJ) hopes to appeal to the Court of Final Appeal against allowing a UK barrister represent media tycoon Jimmy Lai in his high-profile national security trial, scheduled to start in just two weeks’ time.
The DoJ told HKFP on Tuesday that it had applied for leave to appeal against a Court of Appeal ruling upholding the decision to allow the admission of King’s Counsel Timothy Owen.
Lai, 74, is set to stand trial from December 1. The founder of defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily stands accused of three national security charges: two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or external elements, and one count of collusion with foreign forces. Owen is expected to arrive in Hong Kong this week.
He also faces one count under the colonial-era sedition law of conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications.
Three companies linked with the defunct tabloid will also stand trial. Six other defendants in the case, who were former employees of Apple Daily or its parent company Next Digital, have pleaded guilty and will appear in court next Tuesday.
King’s Counsels are the equivalent of Hong Kong’s Senior Counsels and require permission to be allowed to represent clients in the city’s courts.
Last Wednesday, a panel of three judges supported an earlier ruling that there was a “clear case” for allowing King’s Counsel Timothy Owen to represent Lai.
Justices Susan Kwan, Carlye Chu and Thomas Au also ruled that the case would attract “substantial publicity locally and abroad,” and that “public perception of fairness in the trial is of vital importance to the administration of justice.”
The DoJ’s attempt at a final appeal is the latest development around the debate over the admission of Owen. It was revealed in September that the department, along with the Bar Council, opposed to the King’s Counsel’s application.
Chief Judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon ruled in October that it was “clearly in the public interest” to allow the British barrister to represent Lai. The department filed an appeal against Poon’s decision just over a week later.
The appeal court’s decision attracted widespread criticism from the pro-Beijing camp, including ex-chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who called the ruling “absurd.”
The city’s justice minister Paul Lam later said that it would be inappropriate for him to respond to comments made by individuals, when he was asked by reporters why he did not respond to Leung’s comments to “defend the dignity of the judicial system.”