Sixth law interpretation by Beijing gives John Lee the final say in Jimmy Lai’s overseas lawyer controversy

The sixth law interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress confirmed that Hong Kong courts should obtain a certificate from the Chief Executive on the question of whether jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying should be allowed to hire British lawyer Timothy Owen KC, citing two articles of the Hong Kong national security law. 

The ruling came as the committee’s four-day meeting ended in Beijing Friday night, with the law interpretation request made by CE John Lee Ka-chiu being one of the items on the agenda. 

Xinhua reported that the Standing Committee passed the motion of law interpretation of articles 14 and 47, with the former saying that duties of Hong Kong’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security include analyzing and assessing developments in relation to safeguarding national security. 

Information of related work should not be disclosed and decisions made by the Committee for Safeguarding National Security are not amenable to judicial review. 

Meanwhile, article 47 states that Hong Kong courts should obtain a certificate from Lee, binding on all courts, to certify the question of whether an act involves national security. 

The Standing Committee then ruled that whether Lai can hire Owen, who is not a registered barrister in the SAR, is a question lying within the definition of article 47, and Hong Kong courts should obtain the certificate issued from Lee. 

If the courts fail to do so, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security should analyze and assess the development and situation of the case in accordance with article 14, according to the Xinhua report. 

That means Hong Kong authorities will have the final say in whether or not to allow Owen to defend Lai in the upcoming national security trial. 

Lee later tonight released a statement, through which he welcomed the law interpretation and extended gratitude towards the Standing Committee. 

“The Committee for Safeguarding National Security and the SAR government will strive to fulfill the duties stated in the law interpretation. The SAR government will also proactively consider amending the Legal Practitioners Ordinance,” Lee said. 

The controversy started as Jimmy planned to hire the King’s Counsel to defend him in the national security trial, but faced objections from Hong Kong authorities. 

After the Court of Final Appeal rejected the appeal by the Department of Justice and gave Lai the green light in late November, Lee then proposed inviting the Standing Committee to interpret the law to clarify the legal arguments. 

Owen had left Hong Kong after his work visa application was rejected by the Immigration Department, according to the defense. Lai’s trial is scheduled on September 25, 2023.