Court of Final Appeal rejects bid to block UK lawyer from defending Jimmy Lai

Hong Kong's top court on Monday dismissed the Department of Justice's appeal against media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying hiring a British lawyer in his case involving breaches of the National Security Law, which means British lawyer Timothy Owen is let to defend the 74-year-old pro-democracy publisher.

Three judges of the Court of Final Appeal upheld a written ruling today, rejecting the appeal filed by DoJ two weeks ago. The argument of the Justice Department to claim to hire foreign barristers in the defence would interfere with national security was "lacking appropriate basis", the judgement read.

The court criticized DoJ for "raising undefined and unsubstantiated issues said to involve national security which were not mentioned or explored in the Courts below."

Jimmy Lai, the founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily, was arrested after being suspected of breaching national security law and is currently serving a sentence at Stanley Prison as a former activist in the 2019 protests. He faces collusion charges and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

His trial is expected to begin on Thursday and last for 30 days before the bench of three designated national security law judges.

In October this year, the High Court granted Timothy Owen, a London-based legal veteran specializing in criminal and human rights law, to represent Lai in his defence.

But the secretary of justice insisted on his objections despite other judges rejecting his bids to overturn that ruling, and eventually applied for leave to appeal to the Court of Final Appeal after Doj lost twice.

Owen, of Matrix Chambers, appeared in previous Hong Kong's high-profile cases. He represented British banker Rurik Jutting, who was convicted for murdering two women, and a police officer who appealed his conviction for assaulting a pro-democracy activist during 2014 protests.