Australian law enforcement agencies have submitted seven requests to Hong Kong for assistance in an investigation who will now be placed “on hold” because the legal aid agreement is in doubt, the investigation has heard.
After the Australian government announced it would do so suspend the extradition treaty Due to concerns about the repercussions of China’s new national security law, Hong Kong authorities retaliated by notifying Australia that a second agreement – a reciprocal legal aid agreement – would also be suspended temporarily.
Australian government officials said on Thursday that authorities typically use this second agreement to seek help from their Hong Kong counterparts as part of investigating crimes such as money laundering, fraud, counterfeiting, proceeds of crime and drug problems.
Types of assistance sought include copies of bank or government records or witness statements.
Karen Moore, assistant secretary in the prosecutor’s department, said there are currently seven unresolved requests for legal assistance from Australia to Hong Kong, while there is one request in another direction at the moment.
He told the joint standing committee about the agreement that this request was now “effectively withheld”.
Officials confirm these developments could have “some impact” on Australian investigations, although in many cases law enforcement agencies have reported that they hope to proceed with evidence gathered from other sources.
The testimony provides some insight into the spillover consequences of Scott Morrison’s decision in July to suspend Australia’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong on that basis. new national security law imposed by Beijing was a “fundamental change in circumstances”.
Evidence provided to the committee reveals Australia informed Hong Kong of its intention to suspend the extradition treaty in diplomatic notes on July 9. This will have minimal immediate practical impact as there are currently no extradition requests.
But the Australian government said it received a reply on July 28 stating that Hong Kong had decided not only to suspend the extradition treaty but also to unilaterally suspend a reciprocal legal aid agreement.
The President of the Australian Law Council, Pauline Wright, said any potential impact on the Australian authorities’ investigation would not be significant enough to offset concerns about the national security laws that have prompted Canberra to act.
Wright said the “broadly defined violations” of the law undermine civil and political rights, and can extend beyond Hong Kong residents and citizens to include Australians whose extradition can be requested from offshore.
“The national security law substantially undermines the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary,” he told the treaty committee, yang do a brief investigation into the Australian government’s handling of the two agreements.
David Grace QC, member of the Law Council’s national criminal law committee, said the impact of the national security law may become clearer in the next 12 months. He worries it “is only going in one direction and it is hurting Hong Kongers”.
“I can’t see the situation changing any time soon,” said Grace.
“There may be a pause or some easing made publicly in light of the threat to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. It may see some window decoration maybe on the PRC side [People’s Republic of China], but I can’t see them retreating in any way to what’s currently happening on the pitch. “
Sue Robertson, first assistant to the attorney general’s department, said Australia was “troubled by the legal implications for Hong Kong’s judicial independence and rule of law and about the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the Hong Kong people”.
“It also concerns the decision that was passed [the law] made without the direct participation of the Hong Kong legislature or judiciary, “he said.
Donald Rothwell, a prominent international law professor, said he was “not entirely convinced” that Australia had established a valid basis for using article 62 under the Vienna Convention, which describes the limited circumstances in which “fundamental change of circumstances” could occur. summoned by one party to suspend or cancel the agreement.
“I don’t think the fact that a country that is in trouble with a national security law is really a sufficient basis for actually being able to use article 62 properly, given the very strict criteria I refer to,” said Rothwell.
Simon Henderson, an international human rights lawyer, said enforcement of national security laws in the past three months had “confirmed Hong Kong people’s worst fears, including a widespread crackdown on free speech and political persecution”.
Henderson said that in his previous role as senior policy adviser at Justice Center Hong Kong from 2017 to 2019, he “consistently highlighted the need for the international community, including the Australian government, to be more assertive in policy and legal responses to Hong. Kong, outlined his disturbing trajectory and Beijing’s increasing interference ”.
“This act is now considered a violation of article 29 of the National Security Law, considered collusion with foreign troops,” he said.
The Australia-Hong Kong Link, an Australia-based volunteer network with links to Hong Kong, argues that the dangers of national security laws have been seen with interception and detention of 12 activists fled Hong Kong to Taiwan.
Australia plans to write a letter to Hong Kong soon to formally agree to a suspension of reciprocal legal aid agreements and enforce a suspension of extradition treaties.
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