Lai’s lawyers engaged the services of Owen in early August per the publishing mogul’s wish for a senior barrister from abroad to lead his team of local counsel.
In October, Chief Judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor approved Owen’s participation in light of “clear” public interest, sweeping aside objections by the Department of Justice and the Bar Association.
The department took their grievance to the Court of Appeal and eventually the Court of Final Appeal, engaging three different sets of senior counsel in the process, in a rarely seen all-out effort to block an overseas lawyer from taking a case in the city. Lai’s lawyers had complained their preparation for the trial had been impeded by the department’s appeals.
Earlier this month, three Court of Appeal jurists upheld the chief judge’s ruling by highlighting the contribution overseas counsel could make in developing local jurisprudence, and the need to take public perception of fairness into account.
The association, which is often seen on the opposing side in similar applications to protect the interests of local barristers, did not lodge an appeal but stated it shared the department’s views on the issues in contention.
Several veteran Beijing loyalist politicians also opposed Owen’s involvement. Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying said it was “ridiculous” for someone accused of colluding with external forces to be represented by a lawyer from abroad, adding the city had no need to adopt international judicial standards in handling national security cases.