Lawmakers have passed a bill that requires foreign lawyers to get the Chief Executive's approval before they can take part in national security cases here.
The changes to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance follow an interpretation of Hong Kong’s national security law by the country's top legislature last December, after London-based barrister Tim Owen was granted approval by the Court of Final Appeal to represent media tycoon Jimmy Lai in a national security trial.
The National People's Congress Standing Committee said it was up to Hong Kong to decide on such matters.
The new changes to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance will require the city's courts to receive a certificate from the Chief Executive before they can allow foreign lawyers to take part in national security cases here.
Lawmakers passed the bill by a show of hands at the Legislative Council on Wednesday. Many councillors, including Ma Fung-kwok, spoke in support of the changes.
"While we want to safeguard individual rights, we must protect the interests of the country and the community. It is necessary to strike a balance between the two," he said.
"If we blindly allow barristers to act in such cases, with no regard for whether national security is involved, this would go against the general interests of the community.”
Legal sector lawmaker Ambrose Lam said while he supports the bill, it would be better for the government to impose an outright ban on overseas lawyers for all national security cases.
He likened the new arrangement to a football match, with the Chief Executive being the goal-keeper, and the Department of Justice acting as defenders.
"But even for a club like Manchester United, there's a centre back called Harry Maguire. No one can guarantee that no mistakes would be made when you're defending," he said.
Social welfare sector lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen, meanwhile, called for more transparency when the Chief Executive considers applications from overseas lawyers, saying he wants to know whether there's a detailed set of vetting rules.
Justice minister Paul Lam, for his part, stressed the CE will consider each application thoroughly and carefully.