The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s constitutional document. All the systems and policies practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) must be based on the provisions of the Basic Law. These include the social and economic systems; the system for safeguarding the fundamental rights and freedoms of its residents; the executive, legislative and judicial systems; and the relevant policies. Furthermore, no law enacted by the legislature of the HKSAR may contravene the Basic Law.
Basic Law and the legal system in Hong Kong
The Basic Law ensures that the legal system in the HKSAR will continue to give effect to the rule of law, by providing that the laws previously in force in Hong Kong (that is, the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation and customary law) shall be maintained, save for any that contravene the Basic Law, and subject to subsequent amendment by the HKSAR legislature.
The continuance of common law in Hong Kong, separate from the legal system in Mainland China, is guaranteed under the Basic Law. In Hong Kong, judges are appointed on judicial and professional qualities and deliver reasoned judgments while the media is at full liberty to report on day-to-day activity in the courts.
Appointment of senior judges
Under the Basic Law, esteemed judges from other common law jurisdictions may serve as non-permanent judges of the HKSAR’s Court of Final Appeal (CFA), which is vested with the power of final adjudication in Hong Kong. Currently, 14 eminent judges from the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are appointed to the CFA.
The High Court, which comprises the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal, may also appoint qualified persons from other common law jurisdictions to serve as judges of the High Court.
Hong Kong’s legal profession is divided into two branches: barristers and solicitors. Solicitors’ rights of audience are limited whereas barristers’ are unlimited in all courts and tribunals where legal representation is allowed. Since 2012, eligible solicitors can also apply for higher rights of audience before the Competition Tribunal, the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal.
As at June 2018, Hong Kong has about 9,500 practising solicitors, around 900 Hong Kong law firms, about 85 foreign law firms and about 1,500 registered foreign lawyers. About 380 solicitors are also notaries public. The Law Society of Hong Kong maintains the professional and ethical standards of solicitors and foreign lawyers practising locally, and handles complaints against them. The Hong Kong Bar Association is the professional body that regulates the professional conduct of over 1,400 practising barristers of Hong Kong.
A number of reputable international and regional organisations specialising in legal or dispute resolution services have set up offices in Hong Kong. They include the Asia Pacific Regional Office of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, Secretariat of the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce Asia Office, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution Asia Pacific Limited, the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission Hong Kong Arbitration Center and the China Maritime Arbitration Commission Hong Kong Arbitration Center as well as the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (jointly operating the Mainland-Hong Kong Joint Mediation Center with the Hong Kong Mediation Centre).
Reflecting the government’s emphasis on the rule of law and legal services in Hong Kong, a prime site in the heart of the city has been set aside to accommodate offices of the Department of Justice alongside local, regional and international law-related organisations (LROs). Part of the West Wing of the former Central Government Offices (now renamed as Justice Place) and the nearby heritage-listed French Mission Building (which previously housed the Court of Final Appeal), are being converted into space for LROs, with offices becoming available from early 2019. Together with offices of the Department of Justice in the Main Wing, the East Wing and part of the West Wing of the Justice Place, the whole area will form a legal hub. Seventeen LROs are selected under the Stage 1 and Supplementary application exercises, while a Stage 2 application exercise will be launched later in 2018. With these LROs moving into the new offices in the legal hub, the synergy and operational efficiency of the legal services sector will be enhanced, and Hong Kong’s position as a centre for dispute resolution and legal services in the Asia-Pacific Region will be further consolidated.
The law-related organisations selected in the Stage 1 and Supplementary application exercises are (in alphabetical order):