UK's Timothy Owen KC to defend Jimmy Lai in December's national security trial

King's Counsel Timothy Owen from the UK is set to defend jailed media tycoon and former boss of now-defunct Apply Daily Jimmy Lai Chee-ying in his national security trial that starts in December after the Department of Justice lost its appeal.

Lai, six executives of Next Digital – the parent company of Apply Daily, and the group's three subsidiaries were charged with colluding with foreign forces; and conspiracy to publish, distribute and display seditious publications between April 1, 2019, and June 24 last year.

Lai was also charged with two counts of collusion between July 1, 2020, and February 15 last year, for calling on other countries and foreign agents to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong.

Lai and three subsidiaries – Apple Daily Ltd, Apple Daily Printing Ltd, and AD Internet Ltd – will plead not guilty. The trial has been scheduled for December 1 and is expected to last for 30 days before a panel of three designated national security judges.

In mid-October, the High Court's chief judge allowed Owen's ad-hoc admission to represent Lai in the trial. The DoJ then filed an appeal against the decision but saw the appeal dismissed by the court.

In the latest written judgment released Wednesday, the High Court explained that “the forthcoming criminal trial is a high-profile case attracting substantial publicity locally and abroad.”

“It involves the resolution of legal issues of great general public importance that would impact substantially on the development of NSL jurisprudence and sedition offenses. Public perception of fairness in the trial is of vital importance to the administration of justice.”

The High Court went on to say it must adopt a flexible and sensible approach to arrive at a decision that would best suit the public interest in this application.

“It is clearly in the public interest to grant the application for admission on grounds of public perception as well as the other grounds that have been canvassed,” the judgment read.

The court also ordered the Secretary for Justice to pay the legal costs.

Previously, the DoJ argued that Owen does not have the experience in issues concerning the application of NSL under local laws, and that there is substantial experience in the local Bar in conducting such challenge.

The six senior executives also facing prosecution are; Next Digital's former CEO Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily's former associate publisher Chan Pui-man, former editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong, former executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, former English edition editor-in-chief Fung Wai-kong, and former editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee.

The six earlier said they would plead guilty in the hearing on November 22.

Two other defendants in this case – fugitive Andy Li Yu-hin and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah – had pleaded guilty already. Their case will be mentioned on January 12 next year.