David Perry, the British lawyer hired by the Hong Kong government to prosecute a group of pro-democracy activists, has resigned following sharp criticism from the British government.
Dominic Raab, the foreign minister and former human rights lawyer, called the lawyer a “mercenary”, adding that he was unable to understand how anyone could take the case “in good conscience”.
Mr. Perry was hired by Hong Kong authorities sue a group of veteran activists including Jimmy Lai, the media mogul, and Martin Lee, who helped draft the territory’s mini-constitution governing its transfer from British rule to Chinese rule in 1997. The trial was scheduled to begin on February 16.
Hong Kong Department of Justice said Wednesday: “Mr. Perry, QC, has expressed concern over these pressures and the exemption from quarantine, and said the trial should proceed without him.
“In view of the public interest at stake and the impending date of the trial, the DoJ has appointed another lawyer to continue the trial as scheduled.”
Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong last year following pro-democracy protests in the city in 2019. Critics say the tough new measures have threat the city’s independent judiciary and its status as a financial center.
Hong Kong authorities used the law to stage a crackdown on the opposition, arresting pro-democracy lawmakers and hold at least 53 activists in a raid this month.
Albert Ho, a member of the group being tried, had described Mr. Perry’s participation as “shameful”. The group has been accused of organizing illegal gatherings during the protests.
Mr. Lee, 82, has been dubbed Hong Kong’s “father of democracy” after helping to draft the legal framework that underpins the territory’s governance. He said he was “proud” to be accused in this case.
Mr Lai’s pro-democracy tabloid, 73, Apple Daily, has long angered local authorities.
Mr. Perry’s allies said he operates under the “taxi rank” principle, whereby lawyers take cases as they arise. Other lawyers, however, argued that the principle did not apply when accepting cases abroad.
Mr Raab told the BBC over the weekend that a lawyer could resist such a case “under the bar code of ethics”.
He added, “From Beijing’s perspective, this would be a serious public relations coup.”
Grenville Cross, the former director of public prosecutions in Hong Kong, said the pressure Mr Perry was facing was part of a deliberate effort to weaken the city’s legal system. “It could play well with the anti-Chinese lobby in the UK, it will dismay everyone in Hong Kong who values the rule of law,” he said.
CY Leung, former Hong Kong chief executive from 2012-17, said the pressure on Mr Perry was “naked political intervention” from the UK.
Additional reporting by Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong