(Bloomberg) — Hong Kong’s high court barred media mogul Jimmy Lai from using a British lawyer to represent him in his upcoming trial as the city cracks down on foreign involvement in national security matters.
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Lai’s appeal to use a foreign lawyer was rejected by Supreme Court Justice Jeremy Poon on Friday. The decision reverses one the court made last year when it upheld Lai’s right to hire a lawyer in the UK.
The Hong Kong government has been waging a legal battle for months to block Lai from being represented by British lawyer Timothy Owen at his trial, which is scheduled for September 25. Prosecutors say Lai – the seven-year-old founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper – colluded with foreign countries by seeking international sanctions against Hong Kong and China. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted.
After scoring the first track win in 2022, Lai’s path to keep Owen has slowly disappeared.
Following the previous court ruling, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee asked Beijing last year whether overseas lawyers could participate in lawsuits over national security laws.
The Chinese legislature decided that Hong Kong courts must get approval from the city’s chief executive before allowing an overseas lawyer to participate. That decision effectively became law after city lawmakers last week gave Lee the power to veto foreign lawyers from national security cases.
In the appeal, Lai’s lawyers had asked the court to overrule a request by the city’s National Security Protection Committee to deny Owen a work visa, according to court documents. The committee oversees the implementation of the Beijing-backed national security law, which took effect three years ago.
In his Friday ruling, Poon wrote that the Hong Kong courts have “no jurisdiction” over the work the committee is doing – nor do they influence the Chinese legislature’s decision last year.
“The applicant’s application for leave in this regard must be dismissed,” Poon wrote.
Lai is one of the most prominent pro-democracy activists charged under the National Security Act, which asserts global jurisdiction over cases involving terrorism, secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers.
(Updates with context and details throughout.)
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