Hong Kong says top UK lawyer has quit team prosecuting dissidents

The case against Lai relates to protests in August 2019. - AFP

HONG KONG (AFP): A top British barrister has pulled out of leading a team prosecuting a group of prominent Hong Kong dissidents, the city’s authorities said Wednesday (Jan 20), following growing criticism in the UK.

David Perry was announced last week as lead prosecutor in the upcoming trial of nine well-known activists, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former lawmaker Martin Lee, on charges of unlawful assembly.

But Perry’s involvement sparked a row in the UK about legal ethics, and whether British lawyers should be involved in helping Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on dissent in the restless financial hub.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice said "growing pressure and criticism from the UK community", as well as the city’s lengthy quarantine requirements during the coronavirus pandemic, had led to Perry pulling out.

"Perry, QC, expressed concerns about such pressures... and indicated that the trial should proceed without him," the department said in a statement, calling criticism of Perry’s role in upcoming trials "ill-informed".

On Sunday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab led criticism of Perry’s involvement as "pretty mercenary".

"I understand in the case of Perry, in relation to the pro-democracy activists, and of course from Beijing’s point of view, this would be a serious PR coup," Raab told Sky news.

Unlike the opaque, party-controlled legal system on China’s mainland, where conviction rates are around 99 per cent, Hong Kong maintains an independent common law system which has formed the bedrock of the city’s economic success.

It is not unusual for lawyers from other common law jurisdictions overseas to work in Hong Kong, both on defence and prosecution teams, as well as in commercial and contract law; and foreign judges also do stints on the city’s top court.

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Hong Kong , UK , lawyer , dissidents , David Perry


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