The town’s chief will solely give approval if there are adequate grounds to imagine the legal professionals’ involvement won’t contradict the pursuits of nationwide safety, and the choice can’t be challenged.
The invoice was handed by a majority within the metropolis’s legislature, stuffed by principally Beijing loyalists, with little opposition by way of a show-of-hands vote. Critics stated the modifications will depart defendants with even fewer decisions once they search for authorized illustration in among the metropolis’s most controversial instances.
The authorized modifications have been proposed this yr after the town’s high court docket permitted jailed pro-democracy writer Jimmy Lai’s appointment of London-based lawyer Timothy Owen to characterize him as he faces collusion fees underneath a Beijing-imposed nationwide safety regulation.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, makes use of the identical widespread regulation jurisdiction because the U.Okay., and legal professionals from different widespread regulation jurisdictions can usually work inside the metropolis’s authorized system when their experience is required.
Hours after Hong Kong’s high court docket in November permitted Lai’s selection of lawyer, metropolis chief John Lee requested Beijing to determine whether or not overseas legal professionals must be allowed to work on nationwide safety instances. Whereas China’s high legislative physique didn’t directly rule on whether or not these legal professionals might deal with such instances, it stated the town’s chief and committee for safeguarding nationwide safety had the ability to determine the matter.
In proposing the modification, the federal government stated the modifications would “successfully implement the spirit of the interpretation” of the regulation and handle potential nationwide safety dangers related to abroad legal professionals dealing with such instances. The mechanism will apply to each prison and civil instances associated to nationwide safety, it stated.
On Wednesday, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam defended the modifications by arguing defendants can select illustration from greater than 1,600 barristers in Hong Kong. However, in apply, defendants in nationwide safety instances are left with a small pool of legal professionals who can deal with such instances, stated Kevin Yam, senior fellow at Georgetown Middle for Asian Legislation.
“Just about nearly all of the barristers who’re prepared and ready” to take up such instances are already dealing with an ongoing trial involving 47 activists who have been charged underneath a nationwide safety regulation over an unofficial major election, Yam stated. That trial is predicted to final for 90 days.
“We’re left with a scenario the place a kind of case that only a few legal professionals are prepared to take up at the moment are going to lose yet one more supply from which you will get authorized illustration,” he stated.
He additionally famous the definition of nationwide safety is obscure, so it will likely be exhausting to find out when overseas legal professionals might be turned away underneath the brand new mechanism.
“In case you are a overseas lawyer … would you’re taking the dangers in going by way of the entire uncertainty about whether or not the case you’re going to take goes to contain nationwide safety parts?” he stated.
The authorized modifications handed Wednesday should not retrospective.
Lai’s legal professionals earlier discovered that the committee for safeguarding nationwide safety had determined Owen’s illustration of Lai would doubtless pose nationwide safety dangers and suggested the director of immigration to refuse any new work visa functions from Owen associated to the case. The director of immigration stated his division would act in accordance with that recommendation.
The legal professionals final month filed an utility for judicial evaluation, asking the court docket to quash the committee and director’s choices. The court docket is predicted at hand down a call later.