Hong Kong hires British barrister to prosecute pro-democracy activists


A senior English criminal barrister has been appointed by Hong Kong’s justice department to represent the prosecution against media mogul Jimmy Lai and eight opposition figures for their roles in a 2019 anti-government protest.

The Court of First Instance on Tuesday granted the Department of Justice’s application to fly in British Queen’s Counsel (QC) David Perry to handle the case, noting not only its complexity but its “real and significant impact on the exercise of the freedom of assembly in the future”.

Perry is regarded as one of the most formidable British QCs to operate in Hong Kong, and will be advising the courts on how the activists broke the city’s freedom of assembly laws. The maximum sentence is seven years if the case is heard in the district court.

David Perry’s decision has been challenged by the chair of the UK’s foreign affairs select committee, Tom Tugendhat, and by the Labour peer Lord Adonis.

The case against the nine centres on an anti-government protest in Causeway Bay on August 18, 2019. Prosecutors have argued protesters disregarded the objection by police that day to turn an approved assembly inside Victoria Park into a march to Central, which was not permitted.

Among the other defendants are “Father of Democracy” Martin Lee Chu-ming, the Tiananmen Square vigil organiser Lee Cheuk-yan, and the veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.

All nine defendants were charged jointly with two offences: organising an unauthorised assembly and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly. The trial has been set for February 16.

Amid a worsening crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, China imposed a national security law on the territory in June last year. Last week, in by far the largest action so far taken under the law, more than 50 people, including pro-democracy politicians and campaigners, were arrested in early morning raids.

On Sunday, the foreign ministers of Australia, the US, Britain and Canada issued a joint statement expressing “serious concern” about the raids. “It is clear that the national security law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views”, the countries’ four foreign ministers said.

Tugendhat, the chair of the Conservative China Research Group, said: “We all need to ask when the law stops being an instrument of justice and becomes the tool of tyrants. Hong Kong’s new security law suggests we are beyond the point when we can ignore the question and the implications for everyone working in the legal process.”

Overseas barristers require special high court approval before they can practise in Hong Kong on an ad hoc basis, and are mainly used if external advice is needed for complex cases.

Adonis tweeted: “Where are the ethics of the English legal profession going?”

Barristers justify acting for parties on the principle that justice must be available for all, and Perry has long experience in the Hong Kong courts.

In December, the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said he had started consultations with Lord Reed, the president of the UK Supreme Court, about the appropriateness of British judges sitting as non-permanent judges on the Hong Kong court of final appeal.

Several British judges sit as non-permanent members on the court, and Reed has been a personal advocate of their continued presence, partly on the basis the judges can help maintain the court’s independence from the Chinese state.

Lai, a 73-year-old media tycoon, is facing multiple other charges, including some brought under the new national security law, including colluding with foreign powers. (Source: The Guardian)