(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s High Court barred media mogul Jimmy Lai from using a UK-based lawyer to represent him in his upcoming trial as the city clamps down on foreign participation in national security cases.
Most Read from Bloomberg
Lai’s appeal to use a foreign lawyer was rejected by High Court Chief Judge Jeremy Poon on Friday. The decision reverses one the court made last year, when it affirmed Lai’s right to hire a UK-based lawyer.
The Hong Kong government has waged a legal battle for months to block Lai from being represented by UK-based attorney Timothy Owen in his trial, which is scheduled for Sept. 25. Prosecutors say Lai — the septuagenarian founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper — colluded with foreign countries by seeking international sanctions against Hong Kong and China. He is facing a possible life sentence if convicted.
After scoring that initial court victory in 2022, Lai’s path to keeping Owen has slowly vanished.
Following that earlier court decision, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee last year asked Beijing whether overseas lawyers could take part in national security law trials.
The Chinese legislature decided that Hong Kong courts must get approval from the city’s chief executive before allowing an overseas-based lawyer to participate. That decision has effectively become law after the city’s lawmakers last week granted Lee the power to veto foreign lawyers from national security cases.
In the appeal, Lai’s attorneys had asked the court to overrule a request by the city’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security to deny Owen a work visa, according to court documents. The committee oversees implementation of the Beijing-backed national security law, which was brought into force three years ago.
In his Friday judgment, Poon wrote that Hong Kong courts have “no jurisdiction” over the work the committee does — nor do they have sway over the Chinese legislature’s decision last year.
“The applicant’s leave application in this regard must be refused,” Poon wrote.
Lai is one of the most prominent pro-democracy activists charged under the national security law, which asserts global jurisdiction for cases involving terrorism, secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers.
(Updates with context and details throughout.)
Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.