Hong Kong court refuses to let top British rights expert defend Canadian lawyer in disciplinary trial

Rob Tibbo fled Hong Kong four years ago, fearing arrest on trumped-up charges as he and the ‘Snowden refugees’ complained of increasing persecution

Article content

A Canadian lawyer who acted for whistleblower Edward Snowden says he’s more worried than ever about getting a fair hearing before a disciplinary tribunal in Hong Kong after a local court refused Thursday to let a world-renowned human rights lawyer represent him.


Article content

The ruling also underscores the city’s reluctance to permit outside scrutiny of a legal system that’s coming under growing pressure from the Chinese government, said Montreal-native Rob Tibbo.

Based in the U.K., lawyer Geoffrey Robertson’s clients have included Salman Rushdie, Julian Assange, Mike Tyson and former Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Tibbo said he wanted Robertson on the discipline trial because he’s not only widely respected in the rights field, but untainted by being part of Hong Kong’s legal fraternity.

However, the High Court of Hong Kong sided with the city’s Beijing-dominated government and said there was nothing so complex in the Canadian’s case that justified admitting a lawyer from overseas to represent him.


Article content

Tibbo faces several disciplinary charges before the Hong Kong Bar Association, partly related to publicizing how some of his refugee clients helped to hide Snowden there in 2013. The Canadian fled the city four years ago, fearing arrest on trumped-up charges as he and the refugees complained of increasing persecution.

Tibbo now lives in Nova Scotia but is still licensed to practice in Hong Kong, while all but one of the seven “Snowden refugees” have been admitted to Canada.

“It shows a clamp down on outside lawyers participating in the system and observing how it is turning against human rights,” he said of the ruling. “At the very time that Hong Kong needs to have its legal system observed by distinguished and independent lawyers, the authorities … are afraid to allow this scrutiny.”


Article content

Tibbo said Thursday’s decision contrasted with one last year that allowed another British lawyer to come to Hong Kong to prosecute democracy activists — to act on the government side, in other words. “He’s treated my case completely differently.”

The lawyer said he plans to appeal. But if he fails to get Robertson to Hong Kong, “I have little confidence I’ll receive a fair hearing.”

If he were to be actually disbarred, Tibbo said that could imperil Ajith Pushpa Kumara, the last of his refugee clients still stuck in the enclave and awaiting a decision on whether he can immigrate to Canada.


Article content

Snowden retained Tibbo in Hong Kong after he arrived there with a trove of highly classified documents detailing secret mass surveillance programs carried out by the U.S. and its allies.

With American authorities in hot pursuit, the lawyer had three groups of his refugee clients hide the former intelligence consultant in essentially the slums of Hong Kong for two weeks, before Snowden emerged and flew to Russia.

Tibbo disclosed the asylum seekers’ role to the National Post in 2016, after learning their part in the saga would be featured in director Oliver Stone’s movie about Snowden.

British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.
British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson. Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images/File

The bar association complaints include two unusual ones from groups of anonymous barristers complaining that his disclosure of the episode put his clients in danger, making it impossible for them to find a safe haven in a third country. In fact, almost all have done so.


Article content

Tibbo says the whole process has been tainted by lack of disclosure of evidence to be used against him at the Barristers Discipline Tribunal and potential conflicts of interest involving those unnamed lawyers.

The Bar Association did not oppose Robertson’s involvement but the Hong Kong Secretary of Justice did.

Justice Aarif Barma accepted most of the department’s arguments, saying the legal issues to be discussed were not unusually complex, and suggesting that Tibbo could have found an appropriate senior lawyer in Hong Kong. The fact that none would represent him for free — as Robertson has offered to do — should not have affected his search in the city, said Barma.

“It does not seem to me that this is a factor that carries much weight,” said the judge. “There is no suggestion, much less any evidence, that the barrister is unable to afford any legal representation that he may need.”

• Email: | Twitter:


  1. Advertisement


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *