A High Court judge has ruled that two smartphones owned by jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai can be searched on national security grounds, adding that the need to deal with crimes in the public interest trumps journalistic privilege.
Lai, who faces various charges under the national security law, had sought to stop the national security police from searching his two phones that he said contain journalistic materials.
Senior Counsel Philip Dykes, representing Lai, had previously argued that protecting those materials was essential in upholding a free press, and the absence of such a safeguard would create a chilling effect.
But in a judgement denying Lai’s application for a judicial review of the matter, national security judge Wilson Chan said press freedom does not equate to any blanket prohibition against the seizure, production or disclosure of journalistic materials.
"In carrying out the balancing exercise, journalistic material cannot be regarded as some sort of 'paramount consideration'. Rather, the paramount consideration is the public interest, which includes the need effectively to investigate and deal with crime," he wrote.
The judge noted that a warrant authorising a search of the two mobile phones covers all types of materials so long as they contain or are likely to contain evidence of a national security offence, including journalistic materials.
Lai’s legal team has said they will file an appeal, and Chan suspended the execution of the warrant for a week.