Hong Kong appeal court blocks Jimmy Lai from challenging foreign counsel ban
A Hong Kong appellate court has upheld a decision to bar media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying from mounting a legal challenge over a prohibition against a British lawyer’s participation in the mogul’s national security trial.
Three Court of Appeal judges concluded in a judgment handed down on Monday that the judiciary did not have jurisdiction to review the decision by the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, comprising Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu and other officials.

The committee decided in a closed-door meeting in January last year that the involvement of London-based King’s Counsel Timothy Owen in Lai’s case was likely to undermine national security, and that it would advise the Immigration Department to dismiss any of the Briton’s applications for a work visa.

The judgment, comprising 55 paragraphs, said Article 14 of the Beijing-imposed national security law stipulated the committee was free from interference from any institution, organisation or individual and that its decisions were not amenable to judicial review.
Jimmy Lai is currently standing trial on two conspiracy charges of collusion with foreign forces and a third of conspiracy to print and distribute seditious publications. Photo: AP
The court also noted the non-interference rule was reiterated by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Beijing’s top legislative body, in its first interpretation of the law in December 2022.

Justices Susan Kwan Shuk-hing, Carlye Chu Fun-ling and Thomas Au Hing-cheung stressed the combined effect of the law and the interpretation “leaves no room for any doubt or ambiguity”

“The meaning of the language is not reasonably capable of sustaining any competing alternative interpretation. The court is bound to give effect to the clear meaning of the language of the text,” the judgment read.

Hong Kong court upholds decision to bar British lawyer from Jimmy Lai trial

But unlike many of the other rulings by the appeal court in other cases, the document did not identify which of the three judges penned it.

The bench rejected a legal construction by Lai’s lawyers to allow for “some attenuated form” of judicial supervision, adding there was no justification to construe the law as restricting the national security committee’s duties and functions to broad policymaking as contended.

A separate appeal by Lai against an indemnity costs order in the court below was maintained in Monday’s judgment.

Lai, 76, is currently standing trial without a jury at West Kowloon Court on two conspiracy charges of collusion with foreign forces and a third of conspiracy to print and distribute seditious publications.

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The Apple Daily founder was initially allowed to engage the services of Owen, who is not admitted to the Hong Kong Bar and requires the court’s permission to take up cases in the city.

But the standing committee’s interpretation of the security law effectively gave Lee and the national security committee he chaired the final say on the matter.

The tycoon mounted two legal challenges in a bid to keep Owen on his defence team.

Both applications were dismissed by the High Court’s Chief Judge Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor, who said national security matters “clearly fall outside the courts’ constitutional competence assigned to them under the constitutional order”.

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