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Hong Kong Says British Citizen Jimmy Lai Requesting British Lawyer Threatens National Security

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

12 April 2023 – Hong Kong’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security (CSNS) ruled that allowing London-based barrister Timothy Owen to defend Jimmy Lai would likely pose a risk “contrary to the interests of national security”. Mr Lai’s legal team has filed a legal bid to ask a Hong Kong court to overturn this decision.

Mr Lai’s case has long sparked debate over whether overseas counsel is qualified to practice in Hong Kong’s National Security Law-related cases. In October last year, Hong Kong’s High Court allowed Mr Owen to defend Mr Lai despite the Hong Kong government’s repeated rejection of the King’s Counsel’s involvement with the case. In November 2022, John Lee then invited Beijing to intervene and one month later, the China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee determined that John Lee or the CSNS, and not the courts, has the final say over whether a foreign lawyer can defend Mr Lai.

The CSNS did not inform Mr Lai’s legal team that they considered Mr Owen’s participation to be a risk to national security until March, when Hong Kong’s Director of Immigration and CSNS member, Au Ka-wang, revealed the CSNS’ January decision to advise Hong Kong’s Immigration Department to refuse Mr Owen an extension on his work visa if he joins Mr Lai’s legal team. Mr Au shared that the CSNS’ decision is “final, binding and not subject to judicial review”, and emphasised how the CSNS is not required to provide an explanation for their decision.

Mr Lai has been behind bars for 833 days, facing multiple charges under the National Security Law. The world awaits Jimmy Lai’s National Security Law trial, which is due to begin in September 2023.

The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation’s President, Mark Clifford, said:

“It’s outrageous that the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong authorities have once again prevented Jimmy Lai from hiring his lawyer of choice. If anybody needed more evidence that the Hong Kong authorities are systematically destroying Hong Kong’s legal system and rule of law, here we have it as Jimmy Lai’s legal team did not find out for months that the Committee for Safeguarding National Security had decided to prevent British citizen Jimmy Lai from hiring British barrister Timothy Owen. This is yet another nail in the coffin for the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

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