A Hong Kong court has dismissed an application by five opposition figures charged over unauthorised assemblies seeking to prevent police from accessing their phones, rejecting their suggestion the search was arbitrary and disproportionate. The High Court ruled against veteran pan-democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming and four others – Albert Ho Chun-yan, Au Nok-hin, Sin Chung-kai and Yeung Sum – on Thursday in a judicial challenge lodged two months ago that took aim at a police search warrant to access phones confiscated during their arrests. While their lawyers argued the warrant was loosely written and lacking in precise detail, two Court of First Instance judges rejected those claims, saying the document contained clear cross-references. Justices Alex Lee Wan-tang and Russell Coleman also rejected the assertion that access granted by the warrant would allow police to embark on a fishing exercise. The power granted by the warrant, they said, merely allowed for a “cursory inspection” to screen out what was not required, and limited police to information relevant to the investigation. Disagreeing with the ruling, Au said he was overcome by a sense of hopelessness, uncertain about whether to take their case forward for an appeal. “It is very clear that collecting mobile phones is unnecessary for the charges we face,” he said. The five applicants, all former Democratic Party lawmakers, are among 15 people facing a total of 61 charges arising from their involvement in four banned processions between August and October of last year. Hong Kong protests: five opposition figures get temporary court order to stop police accessing their phones The group of 15, which includes Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, appeared at West Kowloon Court on June 15 and had already been told their cases would be transferred to the higher District Court. On June 26, police told lawyers for the five that they had obtained a warrant granting them unlimited access to their phones, triggering the present court action. The opposition figures feared police would scour their phones for information unrelated to the charges they faced. But the two judges shrugged off those worries in Thursday’s judgment, saying: “There is no licence to fish”. Had the warrant not stated police could access all the content, “it is difficult to see how the police officers executing [the warrant] could lawfully take even a cursory glance at all the contents,” they wrote, calling it “inevitable”. [Police] are bound in their search, to adhere to the rule that the manner of the search must be reasonable Justices Alex Lee and Russell Coleman in their ruling But that was not to say police could scour the devices indiscriminately, they stressed. “They are bound in their search, to adhere to the rule that the manner of the search must be reasonable,” the two judges wrote. They pointed out that the warrant also elaborated that police would look only for “portions or extracts” of digital content relevant to the investigation, thereby providing a limitation. Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC, barrister for the five, had earlier argued that the warrant did not specify the investigation to which it applied. But the judges disagreed, saying the document had included various identifiers, such as a police reference number, which corresponded to other documents the five had been given in relation to their criminal case concerning unlawful assemblies. Hong Kong court extends injunction to opposition politicians to prevent police from accessing their phones The five had also argued the timing was suspicious, because it took almost two months after their phones were seized for the force to obtain the warrant – a time frame in which, they suggested, police should have already finished the investigation. But judges accepted the police version that the amount of time involved had been necessary to obtain the warrant, although they found the magistrate who signed off on the police request had erred in refusing to hear the opposition figures’ argument against it. Nonetheless, that was “academic”, the two judges ruled, because they had already ruled against the five, who were also ordered to pay the legal costs.