U.N. expert warns Hong Kong security law compromising judiciary

A United Nations expert has warned that the national security law China imposed on Hong Kong is “hindering the independence of the judiciary,” while putting the authorities on the spot over an effort to tighten their grip on legal representation.

In a letter to the Chinese government dated April 19, U.N. Special Rapporteur Margaret Satterthwaite said many of the clauses in the security law are at odds with the international human rights treaty, to which China is a signatory. She also warned that proposed amendments to the city’s Legal Practitioners Bill could contradict rights standards.

“I would like to reiterate that international human rights standards provide that tribunals should be independent of the executive and legislative branches of government and enjoy independence in deciding legal matters,” she wrote in a letter uploaded to a U.N. communications database.

The Hong Kong government has proposed barring overseas attorneys from taking part in national security cases unless approved by the city’s chief executive. This followed a debate about media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s bid to hire U.K. lawyer Timothy Owen as his representative for an upcoming national security trial. While Hong Kong’s top court admitted Owen to represent Lai, Beijing subsequently issued its interpretation of the law, stating that overseas lawyers require confirmation by Hong Kong’s leader.

Satterthwaite warned that allowing the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress to interpret the law was tantamount to interference in judicial matters by the executive and legislature. “This provision would oust in practice an essential power of the judiciary in national security matters, hindering the independence of the judiciary,” she wrote.

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