British QC pulls out of Hong Kong case against activists amid 'pressure'

Lucy Fisher
·3-min read
Prosecutor David Perry had faced criticism from British politicians  - ISAAC LAWRENCE /AFP
Prosecutor David Perry had faced criticism from British politicians - ISAAC LAWRENCE /AFP

A British barrister has withdrawn from prosecuting pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong next month, following widespread criticism of his planned involvement in the trial.

David Perry QC, who practises at the London set 6KBW College Hill, faced pressure to pull out from an array of UK politicians who urged him to rethink.

The trial next month is against nine campaigners, including media mogul and high-profile critic of the Chinese state Jimmy Lai, who are accused of organising an illegal anti-government march.

Lee Cheuk-yan, the organiser of the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in Hong Kong, Martin Lee Chu-ming, known as the territory’s “Father of Democracy”, and veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung are also among the defendants.

They have all been charged with organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019.

On Wednesday the Hong Kong government issued a statement that said there had been “growing pressure and criticism from the UK community directed at Mr Perry QC for his involvement in this case”.

It went on: “Mr Perry QC expressed concerns about such pressures and the exemption of quarantine, and indicated that the trial should proceed without him.”

The Daily Telegraph could not immediately reach him for comment.

The development came after Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, intervened over the weekend to warn that Mr Perry's involvement in the trial would be regarded as “pretty mercenary” and a “serious PR coup” for Beijing.

He raised concerns about the draconian national security law that China imposed on the territory last summer, saying it is “directly violating, undermining the freedom of the people of Hong Kong”.

Mr Raab, himself a former lawyer, added: “There's no doubt in my mind that under the Bar code of ethics a case like this could be resisted.”

While the “cab rank” rule at the Bar ordinarily obliges barristers to accept instructions from a client if they have the appropriate experience, it does not apply to foreign work.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Labour peer Lord Adonis had been among other parliamentarians who heaped censure on Mr Perry over his role in the trial.

Last night his decision to pull out was welcomed by MPs. Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Commons defence select committee, declared it “absolutely right”.

He said: “This was a clear conflict of interest. How could he be a Queen’s Counsel and yet represent a state that has changed the laws Britain helped to craft and work in support of an authoritarian regime? This goes against all the ethical principles on which our judicial system is based.”

The Hong Kong government said its Department of Justice has instructed another counsel to prosecute the trial. The nationality of the new lawyer is unknown.

It said: “Some of the ill-informed criticism conflated the matter with the National Security Law.”

Mr Perry has taken part in a number of high-profile cases in Hong Kong and has also appeared for the UK Government at the European Court of Human Rights.