Next Digital loses court bid over seized documents

Next Digital has lost its bid for a court order to get back documents seized by the police during their national security investigation into the company’s founder Jimmy Lai.

Scores of officers descended on the company’s offices in Tseung Kwan O last August after the pro-democracy media tycoon was arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, as well as fraud.

Police took away about 30 boxes of documents.

Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, had hoped the High Court would order the return of any privileged legal and journalistic materials seized during the raid, as well as paperwork not covered by the police’s search warrant.

But handing down his ruling on Thursday, High Court judge Wilson Chan said any challenge to the lawfulness of the warrant could only be done by way of a judicial review, and not through civil proceedings.

“To permit a recipient of a search warrant to mount a public law challenge of the lawfulness of the warrant almost a year after the issuance and execution of the same would wreak havoc to law enforcement in Hong Kong,” the judge wrote.

The court was also asked to grant an injunction order to stop the police looking at the documents seized.

But the judge said this request “does not get off the ground.” He said there is already a protocol in place for Next Media and the police to review the materials, to balance the interests of the two sides.

Having benefited from this protocol, Next Digital cannot at the same time bring everything to a standstill by way of an injunction. “They simply cannot have their cake and eat it,” the judge said.