Published: 10:06, November 29, 2022 | Updated: 10:24, November 29, 2022
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SAR asks NPCSC to interpret national security law
By Gang Wen

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu on Monday submitted a request to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress — the nation’s top legislature — to interpret Article 65 of the city’s national security law so as to clarify whether overseas lawyers are permitted to work on national security cases.

The request came after the Court of Final Appeal, the city’s top court, upheld the High Court’s decision to allow Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of the now-defunct tabloid Apple Daily, to hire British King’s Counsel Timothy Owen as his counsel in his upcoming national security trial, scheduled to start on Thursday.

At present, there are no effective means to ensure that a counsel from overseas ... has not been coerced, compromised or is in any way controlled by foreign governments, associations or persons.

John Lee, Chief Executive, HKSAR

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Lai faces four charges, including colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security, an offense under the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

According to a press release from the Chief Executive’s Office, Lee has submitted a report to the central government in which he asks the NPCSC to clarify the following: “Based on the legislative intent and objectives of the National Security Law, can an overseas solicitor or barrister who is not qualified to practice generally in Hong Kong participate by any means in the handling of work in cases concerning offense endangering national security?”

In a meeting with the press shortly after the court judgment, Lee said he respects the ruling of the CFA. But as the city’s CE and head of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR, he said that he has a duty to request the NPCSC’s interpretation when there is a question that needs clarification, especially as national security is of primary importance.

“At present, there are no effective means to ensure that a counsel from overseas ... has not been coerced, compromised or is in any way controlled by foreign governments, associations or persons,” said Lee.

“There are also no effective means to ensure that (the counsel) will comply with Article 63 of the Hong Kong National Security Law, that during his legal practice, he will keep secret information such as State secrets, commercial secrets, or personal details,” he added.

Hong Kong political heavyweights and groups threw their weight behind Lee’s decision.

In a post on his social media page, Leung Chun-ying, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, backed Lee’s decision.

Leung said the grounds on which the court decided to allow a UK barrister to defend Lai in his national security case are utterly wrong and will have far-reaching implications.

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Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong delegate to the NPCSC, who participated in the deliberations of the draft of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, said he felt disappointment at the CFA’s ruling, adding it is “completely inappropriate” to allow a foreign attorney to handle national security cases.

Tam said that the NPCSC will hold a regular meeting at the end of December, which would be a suitable time for the NPC to interpret the law.

Henry Ho Kin-chung, a council member of the Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Association under the China Law Society also expressed support for the HKSAR government’s move, saying he hopes that the Hong Kong courts will await the interpretation of the NPCSC before starting the trial of Lai’s case.