Hong Kong justice department hires Queen’s Counsel David Perry to prosecute protest case against Jimmy Lai, eight others

Chris Lau
·4-min read

A British Queen’s Counsel who once handled the bribery trial of a former Hong Kong chief executive has been hired by the justice department to now go after media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and eight opposition figures for their roles in a 2019 anti-government protest.

The Court of First Instance on Tuesday granted the Department of Justice’s application to fly in David Perry QC to handle the case, noting not only its complexity but its “real and significant impact on the exercise of the freedom of assembly in the future”.

The case against the nine centres on an anti-government protest in Causeway Bay on August 18, 2019. Prosecutors have argued protesters disregarded the objection by police that day to turn an approved assembly inside Victoria Park into a march to Central, which was not permitted.

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The trial of media tycoon Jimmy Lai (pictured) and eight others over an unauthorised march in 2019 now has a high-profile guest prosecutor. Photo: Handout
The trial of media tycoon Jimmy Lai (pictured) and eight others over an unauthorised march in 2019 now has a high-profile guest prosecutor. Photo: Handout

Among the other defendants are “Father of Democracy” Martin Lee Chu-ming, annual Tiananmen Square vigil organiser Lee Cheuk-yan and veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.

All nine were charged jointly with two offences: organising an unauthorised assembly and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly. The trial has been set for February 16.

Overseas barristers require the High Court’s approval before they can practise in the city on an ad hoc basis. The green light is often reserved for complex cases in which local judges could benefit from the help of talents from abroad.

Granting the prosecutors’ application on Tuesday, Chief Judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor agreed the case qualified for the special arrangement.

The constitutional issues will have a real and significant impact on the exercise of the freedom of assembly in the future

Chief Judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon

“At the core of the parties’ contentions, the court will be asked to resolve the extremely important, difficult and delicate question of how to address and, if necessary, balance the competing interests involved in protecting the fundamental freedom of assembly on the one hand and regulating the manner and exercise of that freedom under the statutory regime, including the appeal mechanism on the other,” he said.

“The constitutional issues will have a real and significant impact on the exercise of the freedom of assembly in the future,” he added, saying it was “of great and general importance to the development of local jurisprudence”.

Perry, who has appeared for the British government at the European Court of Human Rights, would bring a valuable perspective to the case, said Poon, who expected the trial to feature precedents from the European court and tribunals from other common law jurisdictions.

Former chief executive Donald Tsang and his wife arrive at the High Court to appeal against the misconduct conviction obtained by Queen’s Counsel David Perry. Photo: Dickson Lee
Former chief executive Donald Tsang and his wife arrive at the High Court to appeal against the misconduct conviction obtained by Queen’s Counsel David Perry. Photo: Dickson Lee

He also said the public interest would be best served by ensuring the prosecution could gather the best team possible, provided it did not jeopardise the development of local barristers.

Perry, who is far from an unfamiliar face in local courts, represented the Department of Justice in its prosecution of former Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2017 and 2018.

At the trial stage, he secured a conviction of misconduct in public office for Tsang, who was accused of, among other things, being favourably disposed to mainland-based tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau in the sale of a Shenzhen penthouse. But he failed to convict Tsang of two bribery charges.

The misconduct conviction was later overturned when it reached the Court of Final Appeal in 2019.

The Department of Justice spent HK$9.2 million on Tsang’s trial, retrial and appeals, which included the legal bills for Perry and two local barristers.

Perry also led the bribery case against former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan and the leadership and staff of Sun Hung Kai Properties in 2014.

He was lead counsel in the trial of “milkshake murderer” Nancy Kissel, who drugged her husband before bludgeoning him to death, and former feng shui guru Peter Chan, who was convicted of forging a will to claim his late lover Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum’s HK$83 billion estate.

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