David Perry QC is regarded as one of Britain’s most formidable Queens’ Counsel, handling a diverse range of clients, who now include the China-focused Hong Kong government intent on enforcing their controversial ‘security laws’ against pro-democracy protesters.
Perry has been appointed by a Hong Kong court to represent them in the trial of well known publisher Jimmy Lai, who criticised China, along with Martin Lee who has been dubbed the ‘father of democracy’.
Other defendants in the forthcoming trials include Lee Cheuk-yan, vice-chairman of the pro-democracy Labour Party, and Albert Ho, a veteran liberal. All of whom face charges of gathering illegally last August during mass street protests against crackdowns imposed by the Communist government.
Last June China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that punishes anything Beijing considers to threaten China’s tight grip on the once British colony.
Perry once handled the bribery trial of a former Hong Kong chief executive and also the so-called ‘milkshake murderer’.
Overseas barristers require the High Court’s approval before they can practise in Hong Kong on an ad hoc basis. Consent to act is often reserved for complex cases in which local judges could benefit from the help of talents from abroad.
The Chief Judge of the High Court, Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor noted in his ruling –
“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.
However the appointment – and acceptance by the QC – has prompted outrage in some quarters and concern among political and legal figures in both Britain and Hong Kong.
Reddit noted that it was a ‘source of shame’ that the senior QC would accept the role and others have strongly criticised the move.
Tugendhat, the chair of the Conservative China Research Group, said: “We all need to ask when the law stops being an instrument of justice and becomes the tool of tyrants. Hong Kong’s new security law suggests we are beyond the point when we can ignore the question and the implications for everyone working in the legal process.”
Adonis tweeted: “Where are the ethics of the English legal profession going?”
The situation also creates additional focus upon the appropriateness of British judges sitting in Hong Kong.
In December, the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said he had started consultations with Lord Reed, the president of the UK supreme court, about the appropriateness of British judges sitting as non-permanent judges on the Hong Kong court of final appeal.