「官派律師」正式啟動 | Here Come The “Government-assigned Lawyers”


The Department of Legal Aid has finally decided that applicants in criminal cases cannot nominate their own lawyers. Though we saw it coming our way, it was still hard to accept when it eventually arrived. The time of “government-assigned lawyers” has after all fallen on us.


In the case of “Hong Kong Twelve”, we have all seen the “power” of the government-assigned lawyers. If you have been following cases of political dissidents in mainland China, it won’t be difficult for you to find that the government-assigned lawyers are the best tools to block the way between the defendants, and their families, supporters and other people outside. Hence the cases can, in a completely secretive manner, complete so-called fair trials “with lawyers’ presence”. There is also no opportunity left for the defendant or his/her family to choose their own lawyers.


It’s relatively more difficult to carry out secretive detention and trials in Hong Kong (however, never say never and never drop your guard). But lawyers are still occupying a very important communication channel of the defendants on remand or in prison. Such a “loophole” in the seal ring around those in jail of course must be plugged in one way or another.


I have been thinking, if I apply for legal aid for my “incitement to subversion” case, and then I was assigned someone like Paul Tse, Junius Ho or Eunice Yung, how can I work with them? Not to mention whether I would believe that they would follow their superiors’ instruction and force me to plead guilty, nor that I have any doubt of their professional qualities, but the significance of free choice of lawyers lies exactly in trust between the lawyers and their clients, and it’s not just a matter of professionalism. Even a counsel as senior as Ronny Tong was assigned to me, I could still hardly confide in him and tell him everything about my case or the Hong Kong Alliance.


So this reform of the legal aid system is not as simple as making case distribution more even but in fact undermining the lawful rights of the defendants as well as the fairness of trial. Particularly in some cases of relatively more sensitive nature - or when the authorities have come to a judgement before trial and declared that the defendants are “guilty” in other ways - there are very few lawyers whom the defendants can believe would fight the case without fear. If a defendant is forced to accept a lawyer he/she cannot trust or communicate, no meaningful defense can be carried out.


Another point to note is that, this reform of legal aid is taking one step back from that defendants can nominate lawyers to that defendants can only accept the lawyers assigned to them without any right to say no. Instantly the will and preference of the defendants is rendered to something valueless. And for such a radical change, the government has not raised any reasons of necessity. Even if they want to share the cases among more lawyers, can’t there be any mid-way solution? For example, they can ask the defendants to nominate more lawyers, or the Department of Legal Aid can provide more options, or at least the department should take the defendants’ will into account?


As for myself, the actual effect of the reform is that, if you do not allow me to choose my own lawyers, it would be difficult for me to apply for legal aid. Hence I can only rely on my own resources. If I can’t afford to hire a lawyer, I will have to defend myself in person because I am so poor.


It’s also true that not everyone can simply stand up and defend themselves in person when necessary. I am merely lucky to have that option because of my legal background. Other people perhaps will have to accept the “government-assigned lawyers”, or after they hire someone in private, they must hurry to plead guilty and close the case to avoid the soaring fees. From the perspectives of political trial and social movement, both options are very hurtful, needless to say the impact on personal justice.


For someone determined to face a political trial in a political manner, it may be a compulsory course to learn to defend oneself so that he/she doesn’t have to be represented by a lawyer with pro-government political background. As long as the defendant can let go of the debates of legal points and the result of the trial, defense in person is not something too scary. Focus on making clear of the facts and reasons just like us presenting public narratives in social movements. Another option is to raise funds to pay the lawyers. Yet considering the government’s crackdown and attacks on different fund-raising platforms, this seems rather impossible for now.


Soon a bunch of national security law related cases will be heard in the District Court and High Court. To have legal aid or not, to defend in person or not, are becoming imminent choices to make.


Would there be any lawyer who would like to teach the political prisoners how to defend themselves in person?


原文刊於作者 patreon