Judges are considering whether a tycoon should be released on bail on security charges in a precedent-setting decision.
Hong Kong mogul and democracy activist Jimmy Lai was returned to police custody on Monday, as the territory’s highest court examines whether those accused of national security should be eligible for bail in part of a historic challenge to Hong Kong’s sweeping new national security legislation.
Lai, a prominent Communist Party critic in Beijing, was accused on December 11 by violating new security legislation by claiming to be in collusion with foreign powers and endangering national security.
After a full day of deliberation, the five judges of the Court of Final Appeal failed to reach a verdict and said they would deliver judgment at a later date.
The case has come under close scrutiny in Hong Kong due to Lai, 73’s notoriety, and the precedent she will set on whether those facing national security charges can post bail.
“Today’s appeal is of enormous importance. The National Security Act nullifies and undermines many of the basic principles that underlie Hong Kong’s common law system, including the presumption of bail, ”Johnny Patterson, policy director of Hong Kong Watch told the UK.
“The judgment will set a precedent for how the national security law fits into the city’s larger legal framework. The Hong Kong Bill of Rights guarantees the presumption of bail for non-violent crimes. It is essential that this principle be respected. “
Prosecutors argued that the “default position” was that defendants cannot post bail unless they can prove that they “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security,” public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Lai was initially denied bail, but the decision was overthrown at the high court where the judge granted Lai a $ 1.3 million bond on a strict set of conditions, including that he be confined to his home and surrender his passport. The prosecution appealed the decision to the territory’s highest court, and Lai was returned to prison after prosecutors argued he still posed a threat.
Crowd of supporters
Ahead of Monday morning’s hearing, supporters and critics alike gathered in long lines outside the colonial-era courthouse for a chance to secure one of 50 reserved seats in the public gallery.
Among them were Cardinal Joseph Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong and a leading critic of the Chinese Communist Party, who has been heckled like a “dog” and a “traitor” by pro-establishment protesters, according to video footage.
Lai and two of its executives also face separate fraud charges for allegedly using the offices of his company NEXT Digital, the publisher of anti-establishment newspaper Apple Daily, for reasons other than those set out in the lease.
Monday’s bail hearing was the first case under new Hong Kong Chief Justice Andrew Cheung.
His predecessor, Geoffrey Ma, overturned the beliefs of many democracy activists like Joshua Wong for their role in the latest wave of protests in Hong Kong in 2014.
The Court of Final Appeal is the highest court in Hong Kong, and foreign judges from other common law jurisdictions usually sit on the bench. In cases involving the National Security Act, Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam must first clear the judges, but Ma and others have sought to emphasize that it is the judiciary, rather than Lam, that decides which judges preside over which judges. business.
London-based criminal lawyer David Perry was originally asked to prosecute Lai, but he withdrew from the case following a public outcry in the UK and was replaced by a local lawyer.
Lai’s trial is scheduled to begin in April.