The principle that people accused of crimes should be brought to trial quickly is an important safeguard underpinning the judicial process. There is a balance to be struck because trials must also be fair. It takes time for the necessary procedural steps to be taken, especially during a pandemic when court proceedings have been disrupted. But the delay experienced by 47 opposition activists accused of subversion under the national security law is longer than would normally be expected. They have already been waiting more than a year and their trial is still not in sight. The slow progress prompted a judge this week to call for action. Esther Toh Lye-ping was giving her reasons for refusing bail to one of the defendants. It was the second time he had applied. While the judge did not agree that the high threshold for granting bail imposed by the security law had been met, she expressed concern about the “long delay” in proceedings. The court sympathised with a submission from the defendant’s lawyer that the long wait “militates against fairness to her client”. The judge’s remarks should serve as a wake-up call. Thirty-four of the defendants in this big, unprecedented case are in jail while awaiting trial. It was suggested during the hearing that the case may not be heard until the middle of next year. By then, unless granted bail, they will have been in custody for more than two years. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Time spent waiting for a trial is not supposed to be a punishment. The national security law, enacted by Beijing in 2020, requires authorities to ensure cases are handled in a “fair and timely manner”. The Court of Final Appeal has urged magistrates and judges to find ways of bringing security cases to trial expeditiously, including consideration of whether some procedural steps can be eliminated or modified. This must be done. 11 Hong Kong opposition figures ‘intend to plead guilty to subversion charges’ The trial of 47 activists has become bogged down at the magistrates’ court. There have been preliminary issues to resolve and documents to translate. But it must not be allowed to drag on further. Toh called for active case management, involving the court setting hard deadlines for steps to be completed and firm dates for hearings. It is about instilling some discipline while always ensuring that the proceedings are fair. The national security case is not the only one to have faced delays. The pandemic has wreaked havoc with court proceedings around the world. Ex-Hong Kong district councillor gets suspended jail term over call to ‘beat’ police Hong Kong is no exception. Stepping up the ability to conduct video hearings will help. Every effort must now be made to ensure that the backlog of cases is quickly cleared and the security trial proceeds. Justice must neither be delayed nor denied.