As part of the Division’s ongoing drive to improve the readability and accessibility of the laws of the HKSAR, it has made publicly available a comprehensive guide to the styles and practices used in drafting legislation in the HKSAR. The guide, known as Drafting Legislation in Hong Kong: A Guide to Styles and Practices, was published in January 2012 and consists of 15 chapters canvassing most of the important aspects of drafting legislation in the HKSAR. The Guide makes transparent the form and presentation of legislation and explains the drafting approaches and techniques adopted by the Division. It also shares advice on useful tools to adopt, as well as pitfalls to avoid, in the drafting process.
Furthermore, the Guide discusses the major parameters in the HKSAR context within which laws are drafted, including the Basic Law, specific Ordinances and common law principles. The publication of this work represents the culmination of years of meticulous internal examination of the Division’s drafting practices to improve the quality and comprehensibility of the English and Chinese texts.
A Chinese version of the Guide was published in June 2012. In addition to carrying the same content as the English-language Guide, it includes passages and examples dealing with drafting legislation in Chinese and a chapter on issues specific to the Chinese text. In the same month, the Division published a bilingual version of How Legislation Is Made in Hong Kong, which provides updated information and statistics relating to making legislation in the HKSAR. Intended as a companion text to the Guide, it gives readers an overview of the legislation-making process in the HKSAR and elaborates on the roles played by stakeholders involved in that process. With these publications, the Division hopes to enable all statute users to better understand the law.
In recent years, the Division embarked on a major e-legislation initiative to transform access to statutory laws by undertaking a project to establish a verified, authenticated and searchable electronic database of all legislation in the HKSAR. The enactment of the Legislation Publication Ordinance (Cap 614) in 2011 paved the way for the implementation of the database project by providing the necessary legislative backing for it. Although the existing Bilingual Laws Information System already provides a consolidated version of the laws of the HKSAR through the internet, it has no legal status and is for reference purposes only. Once completed, the database project will facilitate free and convenient online access to accurate and up-to-date legislation in the HKSAR with legal status by the public anywhere, anytime.
The major benefits of the database are:
The Division plans to implement the database in two phases. Phase 1 will cover the core functions for use by the Department internally (i.e. the new laws compilation and publication system). Phase 2 will cover the functions for public use and, on its completion, the public will be able to access the database. Legislative materials will then be migrated gradually from the current loose-leaf edition of the laws to the database.
In late 2012, the contract for the project was awarded and, for the most part of 2013, the project was at the system analysis and design stage. In August 2013, a Hong Kong Legislation Database User Liaison Group was formed. The group, which held its first meeting in September 2013, provides a channel through which the Division could benefit from suggestions by frequent users of legislation. By the end of 2014, the Division had carried out a series of tests for the functions covered in phase 1.
The verification process (i.e. the process of checking and confirming the relevant data as being an accurate version of legislation) is targeted to start in 2015/2016 at the earliest. That promises to be a formidable task which will take several years to complete. The existing loose-leaf edition of legislation will be phased out progressively as the verification process makes its way to completion.
In the summer of 2013, the Division launched an intensive legislative drafting course for new recruits and less experienced counsel, which was the first in-house drafting course entirely designed and conducted by counsel of the Division. The course aimed to equip junior drafters with the necessary knowledge to deal with their drafting assignments and to give them a solid foundation for developing and sharpening their drafting skills.
Held from 9 July to 6 August 2013, the course comprised 10 sessions and was attended by six participants. The Hong Kong-centric and practical nature of the course ensured that what the participants had learnt from the course could be directly applied in drafting legislation in the local context. Course topics included not only the fundamentals of legislative drafting such as the structure and interpretation of legislation, but also specialised subjects such as the handling of drafting instructions and approaches to bilingual drafting.
A noteworthy component of the course was a drafting class held in Macao and attended by the counsel of the Division and participants from the Legal Affairs Bureau and the Law Reform and International Law Bureau of the Macao SAR. The drafting class provided a welcome opportunity for legislative drafters from two different bilingual jurisdictions to exchange views and knowledge whilst collaborating on a drafting assignment. The kind assistance of officials of the two authorities in Macao contributed greatly to the success of the project.
A second legislative drafting course was organised for junior drafters of the Division in the summer of 2014. This five-day course, which was conducted by Canadian law drafting expert Mr Paul Salembier, focused on the more fundamental techniques and principles of legislative drafting. To encourage the exchange and sharing of experience, lawyers from other Divisions of this Department and the Legislative Council Secretariat were also invited to attend the course. Another significant feature of the course was that ample opportunities were provided to the participants to engage in open discussions of their drafting assignments with guidance from the course tutor.
Maintaining connections with drafting offices in other jurisdictions is important to the Division in different ways. First, despite their diverse cultural backgrounds and legal systems, drafting offices have the common goal of drafting effective legislation. Thus it is always valuable to see how other drafting offices seek to attain that goal. Secondly, the ease of communications in our technologically connected world has enabled drafting offices to benefit greatly through collaborative endeavours. Assistance can be provided in various aspects of drafting work including computer-assisted drafting and gaining access to research or reference materials. Thirdly, a competent legislative drafter who needs to deal with a variety of subject matters and understand them in some depth can gain important insights by broadening his or her horizons as far as possible.
From 2012 to 2014, the Division continued to strengthen its links with drafters in other jurisdictions. In 2012 and 2014, colleagues of the Division attended the Conferences of Clarity (an international plain language organisation) held in Washington, DC, and Antwerp respectively. Those conferences brought together a diverse network of lawyers and communication experts who shared their knowledge of and experience in plain language techniques and projects.
In November 2012, a delegation led by the Law Draftsman, Mr Paul Wan, visited the Legal Affairs Bureau and the Law Reform and International Law Bureau of the Macao SAR. The delegation from the HKSAR had a very useful exchange of ideas and experiences on bilingual drafting with their counterparts in Macao.
The Conference of the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel held in Cape Town, South Africa, in April 2013 offered a unique setting for drafting counsel at every level of experience to exchange views and to network with legislative drafters from many jurisdictions. Three members of the Division including the Law Draftsman attended the Conference and subsequently shared their observations and reflections with other colleagues of the Division at an all-counsel meeting.
As information technology is now an integral part of the work of any drafting office, participation in legislative drafting IT forums is a highly beneficial experience for the staff of the Division. Counsel of the Division participated in the PCC IT Forums held by the Australasian Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
In addition to overseas visits and participation in international conferences, the Division sent a senior drafter on a 10-week secondment to the Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel in Brisbane, Australia, in the summer of 2014. The secondment was considered extremely valuable in that it gave the drafter an immersive experience of the professional and management practices of an overseas drafting office, and set a solid foundation for further exchanges and co-operation with law drafters of that office.