Home Equality & Justice Jury out in Hong Kong’s first trial under new national security law

Jury out in Hong Kong’s first trial under new national security law

Hong Kong will not be using a jury for the first trial of a case under the city’s controversial national security law.

An AFP report quoted a source saying that Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng has informed the defendant’s legal team of the decision.

The Justice official reportedly cited “the personal safety of jurors and their family members” as reason for the decision.

The trial will instead be heard by three judges who have been appointed to try national security cases.

There was no comment from Hong Kong’s Department of Justice.

Trial by jury has been used by Hong Kong’s common law legal system for 176 years and is described by the city’s own justice department as one of the judiciary’s “most important features.”

The region’s new national security law, however, allows for trials to be heard by dedicated national security judges in some circumstances.

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The first person to face trial is Tong Ying-kit, a 23-year-old man arrested the day after the law came in to effect for allegedly driving his motorbike into a crowd of police officers while flying a protest flag.

He has been charged with terrorism and inciting secession — two new national security crimes — and faces up to life in prison if convicted.

His case is being handled by the High Court’s Court of First Instance, where trials are usually heard by a judge alongside seven to nine jurors.

The Secretary for Justice has reportedly invoked Article 46 of the national security law, which states three instances where juries can be scrapped for national security crimes.

They are protecting state secrets, cases involving foreign forces and protecting the personal safety of jurors and their families.

Hong Kong’s Bar Association had previously raised concerns about that provision.

Critics say the national security law enacted June 2020 crushes wide-ranging freedoms promised with the handover.

Since the imposition of the national security law, Reuters reports that leading activists such as Catholic media mogul Jimmy Lai have been arrested, some democratic lawmakers have been disqualified, activists have fled into exile and protest slogans and songs have been declared illegal.

Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say the law is necessary in light of the months of pro-democracy protests that rocked the city in 2019.

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