After the Court of Final Appeal rejected the Hong Kong administration’s request to bar King’s Counsel Timothy Owens from representing Jimmy Lai in trial, John Lee invited the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to intervene, who ultimately declared that the Chief Executive and Hong Kong’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security, not the judiciary, would have the final say on whether a foreign lawyer is allowed to participate in national security trials. A new bill stipulating prior permission from the Chief Executive before overseas lawyers can be admitted is thereby underway. Llewellyn Mui, the solicitor general from the Department of Justice, stated that while the new bill would not be enforced retroactively, the administration could still use other measures, such as visa denials, to block prior approvals.
The new restrictions on foreign lawyers mark another blow towards Hong Kong’s rule of law and serve as another signal to international businesses that legal protections in Hong Kong are increasingly subject to political interference. The announcement of the use of visa denials to restrict the participation of lawyers also follows a pattern of political interference in Hong Kong’s visa issuance system, including visa denials of prominent journalists. This development also marks another instance of close cooperation between the CCP and the Hong Kong government. Given the success of John Lee’s efforts to involve a mainland government body in the resolution of this dispute, it is likely that further attacks on Hong Kong’s rule of law will see greater participation by mainland authorities.