Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng on Wednesday lashed out at Britain's foreign minister, Dominic Raab, saying he had made "disgraceful" comments regarding the decision of a top UK barrister to take up the prosecution of a group of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.
Cheng's rebuke came after the Department of Justice announced that David Perry QC would no longer be involved in the prosecution following "growing pressure and criticism from the UK".
The case in question involves a number of high-profile activists, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and lawyers Martin Lee and Margaret Ng. They are accused of organising or taking part in an unlawful assembly on August 18, 2019.
Speaking to reporters, Cheng said the government has now hired a local lawyer to replace Perry.
She said she was shocked that Perry had come under "unfair and biased attacks" from the British community, adding that he was simply fulfilling his duty as a barrister to take up the case.
"We have very good lawyers in Hong Kong, who usually can handle a lot of very difficult cases. But … this is a very complicated and difficult case. And also with a view that the laws in Hong Kong may be further developed, we had decided and it was approved by the judge for us to engage an outside lawyer, Mr David Perry, who of course is one of the top silks, a very formidable silk from London," she said.
Without naming him, Cheng then took aim at Raab who had described Perry's move to accept the case as "pretty mercenary", and a "serious PR coup" for Beijing.
"The fact that certain very high-ranking officials have uttered words such as 'mercenary' is, with respect, disgraceful to such a reputable counsel," Cheng said.
She also said people should not underestimate the amount of pressure that is coming from individuals overseas, saying the Department of Justice will do its best to resist such pressure.
The secretary also brushed aside concerns that several senior prosecutors have resigned during her leadership, saying there's nothing unusual about people leaving the government from time to time.
She said some may be retiring or emigrating from Hong Kong, and others may wish to return to their private practice or take up other jobs.