Hong Kong Government introduces bill to regulate overseas lawyers in National Security cases

927

21st March 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong Government has announced the introduction of the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2023 to regulate the participation of overseas lawyers who are not qualified to practise in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) in cases concerning national security (NS Cases). The Bill seeks to address potential national security risks associated with the participation of such lawyers in NS Cases, in accordance with the interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of Article 14 and Article 47 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR.

The purpose of the Bill is to introduce new provisions for the handling of ad hoc admission of overseas lawyers for NS Cases. The Bill will not affect ad hoc admission of overseas lawyers in criminal and civil cases not involving national security. The Bill will provide an overriding principle that an overseas lawyer must not be admitted for an NS Case, unless the Chief Executive (CE) has sufficient grounds for believing that the lawyer’s practising or acting as a barrister for the NS Case does not involve national security, or would not be contrary to the interests of national security (exceptional circumstance). It will also introduce a mechanism for the CE to determine if an application may proceed and if it falls within the exceptional circumstance, and a mechanism to enable the CE to review the matter when there is a change of circumstances after an ad hoc admission is granted.

The Bill seeks to amend the existing mechanism for admission of overseas lawyers in Hong Kong on a case-by-case basis (ad hoc admission). The new provisions will only apply to NS Cases, and will not affect ad hoc admission applications made or handled by the Court prior to the enactment of the Bill. The Bill will introduce a mechanism for the CE to certify whether an act involves national security or whether the relevant evidence involves state secrets when such questions arise in the adjudication of a case concerning an offence endangering national security. The certificate shall be binding on the courts.

The Department of Justice has stated that the Bill seeks to provide new provisions for the handling of ad hoc admission of overseas lawyers for NS Cases, and will not affect ad hoc admission of overseas lawyers in criminal and civil cases not involving national security. The Department has also clarified that the Bill will introduce an overriding principle that an overseas lawyer must not be admitted for an NS Case, unless the CE has sufficient grounds for believing that the lawyer’s practising or acting as a barrister for the NS Case does not involve national security, or would not be contrary to the interests of national security (exceptional circumstance).

The LegCo Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services was consulted on 17th March, and expressed support for the legislative proposal. The Bill was gazetted on 21st March , and will be introduced into the Legislative Council on 22nd March. The Government hopes that the new provisions will effectively address the potential national security risks associated with the participation of overseas lawyers who are not qualified to practise generally in the HKSAR in NS Cases.Regenerate response