A Hong Kong judge hearing Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s national security trial has asked prosecutors to refrain from making unfounded allegations against the mogul’s legal team for failing to raise a matter in contention during the cross-examination of a prosecution witness in earlier proceedings.

A lawyer representing Lai took to the witness stand on Monday in support of a defence request to have former Apple Daily publisher Cheung Kim-hung testify in court again about the now-defunct tabloid’s internal messaging records.

The application was made on the 75th day of what was originally listed as an 80-day trial, after Cheung and five other key prosecution witnesses completed their respective oral testimonies.

Cheung had earlier said the abstracts of various “lunchbox meetings” among Apple Daily executives were uploaded to workplace communication app Slack.

The prosecution argued Lai had made use of those meetings to deliver his instructions to senior editorial staff, including ones directing his newspaper to drum up support for the 2019 anti-government protests.

Johnny Ho, of Robertsons Solicitors, testified that the existence of those relevant meeting minutes first came to their knowledge only when Cheung was cross-examined by the defence on January 29 this year.

The defence team made inquiries to the Department of Justice the following day only to learn that the latter had identified no written records of the meetings in the evidence.

Defence lawyers later received copies of the Slack dialogues from Lai’s daughter, Claire Lai Choi, who was able to produce screenshots of the communications by logging in using the tycoon’s credentials.

Lai’s defence team have asked for prosecution witness Cheung Kim-hung, publisher of the now-defunct Apple Daily, to re-testify. Photo: Dickson Lee

Anthony Chau Tin-hang, for the prosecution, argued the defence team had ample opportunities to conduct their own inquiries and retrieve the Slack conversations well before the trial.

He suggested it was a “tactical decision” of Lai’s lawyers to “deliberately refrain” from questioning Cheung about the messaging records in the first instance.

Mr Justice Alex Lee Wan-tang, one of three judges hearing the trial, immediately stepped in to point out that the prosecution’s claim was unfair to the defence.

“I don’t think you can make such an allegation against a professional unless you have [the] proper foundation,” the judge said.

“It is one thing to say there are earlier opportunities [to obtain the messaging records], but that’s quite far to say there’s a deliberate attempt to delay the investigation.”

The prosecutor withdrew the assertion.

The court is expected to hear further submissions from the bar table when the trial resumes on Tuesday.