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Government must pay Jimmy Lai’s HK$855,000 legal fees after failed bid to block barrister from national security trial, Hong Kong court rules

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 12/21/2022 Brian Wong

A Hong Kong court has ordered the government to pay HK$855,000 (US$110,000) in legal fees to jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying after the city’s justice secretary lost a high-profile battle to block a British barrister from representing the mogul in his national security trial.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday revealed the amount to be paid by Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok, who had not contested an earlier order that he bear the costs of Lai’s legal expenses in the proceedings stemming from the challenge to King’s Counsel Timothy Owen’s ad hoc admission.

The amount consisted of HK$511,700 related to the appeal before the appellate court in November, and HK$343,300 for the secretary’s request to take their grievances to the Court of Final Appeal.

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The court said it would only require costs to be paid for two of Lai’s legal counsel, as the tycoon had failed to justify any “exceptional circumstances” that required him to engage four barristers in the proceedings.

Jimmy Lai has spent most of the past two years in incarceration. Photo: Winson Wong © Provided by South China Morning Post Jimmy Lai has spent most of the past two years in incarceration. Photo: Winson Wong

The legal tangle dates back to October when the High Court’s chief judge allowed the London-based barrister to defend the 75-year-old founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper against charges of colluding with foreign forces.

That decision was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal, prompting city leader John Lee Ka-chiu to request Beijing to intervene and provide an interpretation of the national security law.

Speculation has mounted as to whether China’s top legislative body would step in, after it emerged that the interpretation was not on the agenda of its next meeting from December 27 to 30.

Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai’s trial further adjourned to next September

The Court of First Instance has adjourned the high-profile trial to September next year pending the conclusion of an unrelated criminal trial, in which Owen was granted permission to appear for one of the defendants.

The delay will also affect six former Apple Daily staff members and two activists, who are now awaiting sentencing behind bars after they pleaded guilty to conspiring with Lai to attract international sanctions on Beijing and Hong Kong government officials.

Lai was previously jailed for 69 months on fraud charges stemming from his improper use of Apple Daily’s offices. The tycoon has spent most of the past two years in incarceration, having been denied bail in December 2020.

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