The government on Wednesday tabled a bill to the Legislative Council that would allow the chief executive, rather than the courts, to decide whether overseas lawyers can take part in national security trials.
The proposed amendments to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance follow an interpretation of the national security law by the National People's Congress Standing Committee last December, which the SAR government sought after failing to get the courts to block a British barrister from representing national security suspect Jimmy Lai.
Justice minister Paul Lam told lawmakers that under the proposals, applicants would have to obtain a notice of permission from the CE by providing supporting evidence before making a formal application to the courts for overseas lawyers to take part in a security case.
The courts would also be able to request a new approval from the chief executive if there are circumstances warranting a review of a permission notice already granted.
Lam said it is legitimate, logical and reasonable to make Hong Kong's leader the gatekeeper on matters involving national security, saying he or she would not be given extra powers if the legal changes are passed.
"We have to emphasise again that the bill has no adverse impact on the rule of law, the courts' independent judicial powers as guaranteed under the Basic Law, and the parties' right to choose their legal representation and the right to a fair trial," the secretary said in tabling the bill.
He stressed that the changes would not be retroactive, and that they would not mean a blanket ban on overseas lawyers taking on national security cases.