A defendant in the high-profile national security case involving 47 Hong Kong democrats has indicated that he would like to change his plea, as the trial received a revised start date of February 6, a week later than scheduled.
Mike Lam, founder of retail chain AbouThai, said on Tuesday through his barrister Alain Sham that he would plead guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit subversion.
According to the prosecution, led by Anthony Chau, Lam might also give evidence in court. Apart from Lam, another 30 defendants have pleaded guilty in the case.
While the prosecution initially wanted to set another date to confirm Lam’s plea, the panel of judges ruled that the businessman’s plea will be confirmed on the first day of the trial.
The pre-trial review on Tuesday was heard by three High Court judges, Andrew Chan, Alex Lee, and Johnny Chan at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Lee recently replaced Judge Wilson Chan after the latter said he was retiring from the trial on health reasons.
The 47 pro-democracy figures have been accused of conspiring to commit subversion under the Beijing-imposed national security law over their roles in an unofficial primary election in July 2020 ahead of the Legislative Council poll, which was later postponed.
Most of the defendants have been remanded in custody for close to two years after being detained in late February ahead of a four-day marathon bail hearing in March 2021. Lam is among the 13 defendants currently out on bail.
Bail applications in national security cases have to go through a stricter assessment. Judges consider not only the defendant’s risk of absconding or obstructing justice, but also whether there are sufficient grounds for believing they “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
‘Preserving the integrity’ of the trial
Chau on Tuesday said that the prosecution would present five or six witnesses, and that the 90 days scheduled for the trial should be sufficient, even though not all of the defendants had agreed to a single summary of the facts.
The lawyers of some defendants asked the judges to allow their clients to use electronic devices in the dock to review the evidence, which will be provided in electronic form, and take notes. The judges said they would decide on the matter later.
Defence barrister Steven Kwan applied to block the three judges from reading the materials provided by the prosecution to the defence. If the case were to be heard by a jury, the materials would be given to the judge presiding over proceedings but not members of the jury.
As the jury in the 47 democrats case has been replaced with a panel of judges on national security grounds, Kwan reasoned that the materials should not be made available to “preserve the integrity” of the trial.
The judges, however, denied Kwan’s application, saying that they were “professional.”
Trials at the High Court usually are heard by a jury. However, under the national security law, a jury could be excluded under reasons such as the need to protect state secrets or the safety of members of the jury and their families.
Some of the defendants who have pleaded guilty to the subversion charge, including Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, and ex-chairperson of the Democratic Party Wu Chi-wai, also appeared in court on Tuesday.
People sitting in the public gallery stood up and waved as the defendants entered and left the dock, with some shouting “Happy New Year!” Sunday marks the first day of the Lunar New Year.