HK protests: justice secretary slams ‘disgraceful’ attacks by British government that forced Queen’s Counsel to drop case involving tycoon Jimmy Lai

21-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s justice minister has hit back at “disgraceful” attacks and political pressure from the British government that dissuaded a Queen’s Counsel from prosecuting opposition activists in the city.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah on Wednesday warned against a trend of wider interference in the independent functioning of the legal professions in Hong Kong after David Perry decided not to lead the prosecution’s case against high-profile figures such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and veteran lawyer Martin Lee Chu-ming over an illegal protest.

“For such a reputable British Queen’s Counsel to come to Hong Kong for a case, which in turn surprisingly attracted so many unfair and biased attacks and views in Britain, it was not us underestimating the backlash at all,” she said. “We are just shocked and could not have seen it coming.”

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Perry’s decision to step away from the prosecution emerged just days after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab dubbed him “mercenary” for accepting the job.

Cheng, a barrister by profession, said lawyers were bound by the so-called “cab-rank rule” which required them not to turn away clients based on their identity or nature of the case much like a taxi driver a rule which ensured the most notorious criminals got fair legal representation.

“The Bars in the UK and in Hong Kong take pride in their independence and take pride in our cab-rank rule,” she said.

“The cab-rank rule is one of our very fundamental principles of the independence of the Bar that gives a strong and independent legal sector, which of course is also conducive to a stronger and independent judiciary.”

Without naming Raab, Cheng said: “The fact that certain high-ranking officials have uttered words such as ‘mercenary’ is, with respect, disgraceful to such a reputable counsel.”

Perry’s withdrawal was announced on Wednesday morning in a statement from the Department of Justice.

“Perry QC expressed concerns about such pressures and the exemption of quarantine, and indicated the trial should proceed without him,” a spokesman for the department said.

Last week’s news that Perry who has served as prosecutor in some of Hong Kong’s highest-profile trials would take on the case, attracted a firestorm of criticism from politicians and activists back home, most recently Raab.

“I don’t understand how anyone of good conscience, from the world-leading legal profession that we have, would take a case where they will have to apply the national security legislation at the behest of the authorities in Beijing, which is directly violating, undermining the freedom of the people of Hong Kong,” Raab said in an interview with British media.

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 allowed.

Among the other defendants are Martin Lee, widely known locally as the “Father of Democracy”; Lee Cheuk-yan, organiser of the city’s annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown; and veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.

All nine were charged jointly with two offences: organising an unauthorised assembly and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

Hong Kong’s High Court granted the justice department’s ad hoc application to seek to hire Perry, a procedure required for hiring overseas counsel, on the grounds the case would have a “real and significant impact on the exercise of the freedom of assembly in the future”. The trial is set for February 16.

On Wednesday, the justice department spokesman said ill-informed criticisms had conflated the case facing Lai and the others with the national security law Beijing introduced in June last year.

“As legal proceedings are still ongoing, it is inappropriate for anyone to comment on the case, as it is a matter of sub judice. No one should embark upon baseless speculations. Any unfair and unfounded allegation made with a view to undermining and discrediting our independent criminal justice system will be vehemently refuted,” he said.

The spokesman added the trial would proceed as scheduled, with the department engaging another counsel to take up the prosecution.


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post

Comments are closed.