Explainer: NPCSC’s Interpretation of Hong Kong National Security Law over Jimmy Lai’s Foreign Defense Counsel

On December 30, China’s national legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), issued its inaugural interpretation (Interpretation) of the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR (HKNSL) [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法]. We have recently explained the events leading up to the Interpretation in detail here. In sum: Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, is facing criminal charges under Hong Kong’s local sedition law and the HKNSL. He decided to retain Timothy Owen, a renowned British barrister, for his defense. Owen is not admitted to the Hong Kong bar, but the trial court allowed him to represent Lai on an ad hoc basis. After having failed to have the trial court’s decision reversed on appeal, the Hong Kong government turned to the NPCSC, which has the ultimate authority to interpret the HKNSL.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s leader, requested the NPCSC to answer this open-ended question: “Based on the legislative intent and objectives of the [HKNSL], can an overseas solicitor or barrister who is not qualified to practise generally in Hong Kong participate by any means in the handling of work in cases concerning offence endangering national security?” His request, notably, did not identify any specific HKNSL provision that needs clarification.

Contrary to what many had expected, the NPCSC exercised restraint in responding to Lee’s request. It did not directly ban foreign lawyers from participating in national security cases; in fact, it altogether punted on the question presented. The Interpretation instead clarifies that the HKNSL has already given the Hong Kong government adequate tools to resolve the issue. The ball is now back in the latter’s court.

Below, we explain Friday’s Interpretation and offer some preliminary thoughts on its implications in Q&A format.

Continue reading “Explainer: NPCSC’s Interpretation of Hong Kong National Security Law over Jimmy Lai’s Foreign Defense Counsel”

Quick Note (UPDATED)

Update 2: Per a reader’s suggestion, this Blog has located English translations of both the Interpretation itself and the accompanying Explanations. Both were published by Xinhua. In addition, China Law Translate has posted full translations of the new Cybersecurity Law and Film Industry Promotion Law.

Update 1: Presumably due to the attention the Interpretation has attracted, Xinhua has just released its full text and an accompanying explanation. Both are in Chinese.

The 12th NPCSC has just concluded its 24th Session and passed the Cybersecurity Law, the Film Industry Promotion Law, and amendments to the Marine Environmental Protection Law and to the Private Education Promotion Law. We expect the full texts of these laws to be released later today (Beijing Time).

According to Xinhua, it has also unanimously approved an interpretation of Article 104 of the Hong Kong SAR Basic Law, which will also be released later.

Finally, also according to Xinhua, the NPCSC removed the heads of four State Council ministries: The Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Supervision. Interestingly, it apparently appointed only three new ministers; the position of the Minister of Supervision remains vacant. The significance, if any, of the vacancy awaits to be seen.

The NPCSC is now holding a press conference on the bills approved, which you can follow at this link (in Chinese only).

This Blog will cover the press conference and the aforementioned bills in later posts.

24th Session Watch Pt. 3: NPCSC to Interpret the HKSAR Basic Law—Again? (UPDATED)

Update 2: It has been confirmed that the Chairmen’s Council has put the interpretation which it itself proposed on the agenda of the 24th Session. Article 104 of the Basic Law will be interpreted.

Update 1: On Thursday, no news regarding the rumored Basic Law interpretation came out of the NPCSC, which seemed to have followed its usual schedule. However, it just came to your author’s attention that the agenda for this Session contains an item named “Others (其他)”—an apparent placeholder that hasn’t appeared in the agenda of any other 12th NPCSC session. According to the daily schedule, this mysterious item is set to be heard at the plenary meeting on Saturday morning, along with several other reports. We’ll know what “Others” stand for by Saturday night at the latest.

It seems that the 24th Session has just gotten more exciting. Multiple news reports (SCMP and HKPS) that surfaced late Tuesday night cited sources claiming that the NPCSC would on Thursday consider a proposed interpretation of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Basic Law), in connection with the recent controversial oaths of office taken by two members-elect of Hong Kong’s legislature. If the reports prove to be true, this will then be the NPCSC’s fifth interpretation of the city’s mini-constitution. The following is a primer on this (unconfirmed) interpretation in Q&A format.

Continue reading “24th Session Watch Pt. 3: NPCSC to Interpret the HKSAR Basic Law—Again? (UPDATED)”