Like the proverbial rottweiler with its throat-clamping jaws, Hong Kong’s Justice Dept goes to the courts for a fourth time to prevent Timothy Owen KC from defending Jimmy Lai at a trial due to start next week. The department is applying directly to the Court of Final Appeal for leave to appeal the last rejection.
Why the determination to bar overseas counsel? Six of Lai’s former media staff are pleading guilty to ‘conspiring to collude with a foreign country or foreign elements’ at a NatSec court with its handpicked judges and possibility of sentence-reduction. Some will testify against Lai. Evidence heard involves ‘lunchbox meetings’ and planning for ‘seditious’ news and comment articles calling for public participation in protests and foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong. (More here.) What many would consider fairly typical Apple Daily editorial work is being presented as a threat to national security. What will a foreign lawyer, with few local ties but a potentially sensitive or influential overseas audience, have to say about this, in or out of court, if he is permitted to defend the high-profile Lai?
An even bigger question is how the authorities will react if the CFA denies the attempt to bar Owen. Is the whole judicial system getting into a situation where higher powers see fit to impose whatever ‘enhancements’ it takes to ensure it does not conflict with the sovereign’s ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’?