High Court rejects Jimmy Lai’s application to terminate trial for alleged violations of national security law

589

29th May 2023 – (Hong Kong) Prominent media tycoon Jimmy Lai, along with three companies under his media group, Next Digital, will face trial on charges of colluding with foreign forces to violate Hong Kong’s National Security Law. The trial is set to begin on 25th September and is expected to last for 40 days. Lai had previously filed an application to terminate the trial, but the High Court rejected his request today, with three judges unanimously dismissing his claim. The case management hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.

The four defendants in the case are Jimmy LaiApple Daily LimitedApple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited. The case will be heard by three judges designated under the National Security Law, including judges Amanda Woodcock, Anthea Pang, and Wilson Chan. Lai’s defence team argued during the application that the entire government is persecuting Lai rather than performing its prosecutorial duties, which makes it impossible for him to receive a fair trial. They also claimed that the process of designating judges lacked transparency and safeguards. However, the prosecution rebutted the accusations, stating that there is no evidence to support the claim of persecution, and that the designation of judges will not result in unfairness to the defendants.

Lai, 75, filed an application to stop his trial last year, with his representative, Senior Counsel Robert Pang, presenting the arguments for its termination in court on 2nd May. Pang argued that blocking Lai’s overseas lawyer, King’s Counsel Timothy Owen, from representing him in the trial was “persecution not prosecution.” He also said that there was a lack of transparency in the appointment of national security judges, including whether the city’s chief justice was consulted by the chief executive about the appointments.

The national security trial against Lai, who founded defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, originally faced a total of four charges under the sweeping security legislation and the sedition law. He stands accused of two counts of conspiring to collude with foreign forces and one offence linked to allegedly seditious publications. His other charge of collusion with foreign forces has been saved on court files, meaning that – while the prosecution reserve the right to prosecute – they cannot do so without a judge’s permission.

Lai has been detained since December 2020, and was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison last October in a separate fraud case. The national security trial against the media mogul will resume in September this year.

Lai sought to hire Owen last year, with the Court of First Instance approving Owen’s admission application last October. Lai’s attempt to hire Owen sparked debate on whether foreign lawyers not qualified to practice in Hong Kong were allowed to take part in the city’s national security cases. The government lodged three failed attempts to bar Owen from the trial. Chief Executive John Lee then invited Beijing to intervene following the top court ruling.

The Standing Committee for the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) passed an interpretation of the sweeping security legislation last December following Lee’s invitation, which stipulated that Hong Kong courts had to request a certificate from the chief executive on the matter. If the courts failed to obtain certification from the chief executive, then the city’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security would have to step in, according to the NPCSC decision.

Following the interpretation, the national security committee decided in a private meeting that Owen’s admission would harm national security, and advised the director of immigration to deny any further visa applications from Owen for the case. The national security committee decision was upheld by the High Court on 19th May, after Lai filed a legal bid to challenge it.