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Hong Kong's Legal System



“ONE COUNTRY,
TWO SYSTEMS” AND
THE BASIC LAW
Under “One Country, Two Systems”, Hong Kong is part of China but retains its own systems and way of life. The Basic Law – Hong Kong’s constitutional document – gives legal effect to the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. The Basic Law came into effect on 1 July 1997 with the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR).


The Basic Law guarantees:

  • The continuation of the common law system that has been practised in Hong Kong for more than 170 years
  • Fundamental rights and freedoms including: equality before the law; freedom of movement; freedom of conscience and religious belief; freedom of speech; and privacy of communication
  • Everyone in Hong Kong is equal before the law
  • Access to the courts, right to confidential legal advice and choice of lawyers for everyone
  • An independent judiciary and the power of final adjudication by the Court of Final Appeal (CFA). The CFA may include non-permanent judges from other common law jurisdictions
  • English and Chinese as official languages. Local legislation is enacted bilingually and cases in Hong Kong may be heard in English or Chinese
  • Courts exercise judicial power independently, free from interference. Members of the Judiciary are immune from legal action in the course of their judicial functions
  • High degree of autonomy in areas such as the economy, external affairs as well as education, science, culture, sports, religion, labour and social services


THE COMMON LAW


  • Hong Kong is the only common law jurisdiction within China
  • The common law system is maintained under Article 8 of the Basic Law
  • Hong Kong has built well-established commercial case law that is highly regarded by the international business community and foreign investors
  • The Law Reform Commission aims to maintain a reputation for excellence in law reform, both internationally and in Hong Kong. It presents reform proposals that make the law in Hong Kong more effective, more accessible, and more in tune with the community’s needs
  • All litigants may apply for legal aid regardless of whether or not they are Hong Kong residents
  • Hong Kong’s laws are available on line for easy access
  • Over 260 multilateral treaties apply to Hong Kong. Hong Kong has signed over 250 bilateral agreements on its own in certain areas covering free trade, taxation, investment promotion and protection. Hong Kong participates on its own as a member of about 50 international organisations, e.g. World Trade Organization (WTO) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)


INDEPENDENT, RESPECTED
JUDICIARY




Hong Kong’s judiciary is renowned for its quality, independence and respect for the rule of law.

  • Hong Kong ranks No.2 in Asia and No.8 globally for judicial independence (World Economic Forum: Global Competitiveness Report 2019)
  • Hong Kong ranks No.2 in Asia in respect of the rule of law in the Worldwide Governance Indicators project of the World Bank Group
  • Hong Kong’s percentile rank in respect of rule of law has improved from 69.85 in 1996 to 95.19 in 2018
  • Hong Kong has scored above 90 (out of 100) consistently since 2003 in the aggregate indicator in respect of the rule of law.
  • Hong Kong ranks No.1 in Economic Freedom and World No.3 in the Human Freedom Index 2018 (Cato Institute) by scoring 8.78 (out of 10), with Judicial Independence and Integrity of Legal System scored at 8.5 and 8.3 respectively

 

Power of Final Adjudication
  • The Court of Final Appeal (CFA), based in Hong Kong and established on 1 July 1997, replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London as the highest appellate court for the HKSAR
  • Eminent jurists from other common law jurisdictions (e.g. the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) may be appointed to the CFA as non-permanent judges
  • The association of these esteemed judges with the CFA speaks for Hong Kong’s judicial independence helps maintain a high degree of confidence in the legal system, and allows Hong Kong to maintain strong links with other common law jurisdictions


WHAT ESTEEMED
JURISTS HAVE SAID ABOUT HONG KONG'S LEGAL SYSTEM


Lord Millett GBS,
Non-Permanent Judge of the CFA, said:

“I have sat on the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong for 14 years and have never experienced any political interference from China or anywhere else in all that time. All my colleagues have at all times conducted themselves exactly as English judges would in England. The local Permanent Judges are professionals to their fingertips. At no time in our discussions have I heard any of them express the slightest interest in what Beijing might think of our decisions. If I believed that the Court was susceptible to outside influence I would not be prepared to be a member of it, and nor would any of my overseas colleagues. I am proud to be a member of one of the strongest appellate courts in the common law world. The presence of such eminent jurists as Sir Anthony Mason, Lord Neuberger, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Walker and Lord Phillips is a guarantee of its total independence of Chinese influence, but the guarantee is unnecessary as I have found the local Permanent Judges as independently minded as are English and Australian judges.”


Lord Neuberger GBS,
Non-Permanent Judge of the CFA, said:
“At the moment I detect no undermining of judicial independence [in Hong Kong]. If I felt that the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong was being undermined then I would either have to speak out or I would have to resign as a judge.”


Sir Nicolas Hamblen,
Judge of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales,
said in Shangang South-Asia (Hong Kong) Trading Co Ltd v Daewoo Logistics:

“Whilst Hong Kong is no doubt geographically convenient, it is also a well-known and respected arbitration forum with a reputation for neutrality, not least because of its supervising courts.”




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