In his address at the ceremonial opening of the Legal Year 2013, the Secretary for Justice said,“A combination of factors including…. our efficient legal system have placed Hong Kong in a good position to be a leading centre for legal services and dispute resolution in the Asia-Pacific region. Much effort has previously been made in this regard, and I have no doubt that this is a direction that we should continue to pursue.” On the same event in 2014, the Secretary for Justice further stated, “Last year, I said Hong Kong is well placed to be a leading centre for legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region. This remains the case, and the Department of Justice would continue with its efforts to enhance Hong Kong’s strength in this regard.”
Since taking office in July 2012, the Secretary for Justice has helped promote our international legal and dispute resolution services to the international community on numerous occasions, including on 27 September 2013 when he purposely chose the topic “The Crucial Role of Hong Kong’s Legal and Dispute Resolution Services in making it a Global Centre for Finance and Commerce” as the theme of his address at the Hong Kong Association forum in London. As he pointed out, “Capitalising on our well-developed legal system and legal infrastructure, it is the steadfast policy of Hong Kong’s current Administration, as well as one of the priorities of my department (the Department of Justice), to consolidate, maintain, enhance and promote Hong Kong as a centre for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region.”
The Legal Policy Division helps formulate policies concerning our legal system and legal profession and promote the HKSAR’s legal and arbitration services, and as such, the addresses by the Secretary for Justice are of special significance, conveying a clear direction and a strong sense of purpose to our work. They also remind us that the endeavour is a work in progress and that we must continue to work towards perfecting our legal system and services and to keep pace with international trends for the HKSAR to stay competitive in the region. In the ensuing paragraphs, we highlight some of the policy initiatives pursued by the Division in the period from 2012 to 2014.
We brought the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Ordinance 2010 into operation in June 2012. The Ordinance removed the long-time restriction against solicitors acting as their clients’ advocates in our higher courts. Today, a solicitor who is able to meet the relevant qualification requirements can apply for higher rights of audience, and a solicitor’s right to act as an advocate in our higher courts is no longer restricted by his being solicitor, so long as he has the necessary ability and experience to do so. The reform is also welcomed by members of the public who now have a wider choice of suitable advocates to represent them in the higher courts. Thanks to the efforts of the Higher Rights Assessment Board which is empowered by the Ordinance to approve applications for higher rights of audience, 24 applicants were granted the rights from 2012 to 2014, and we expect more successful applications in future.
The Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Ordinance 2012 was enacted in July 2012. The Ordinance, upon coming into operation, would allow law firms in the HKSAR to practise in the form of an LLP. Unlike the case of a general partnership, the personal assets of innocent partners of an LLP would be shielded from liability caused by their fellow partners’ professional default. Amongst others, LLP is expected to encourage small local firms to merge into bigger practices, enabling them to offer a wider range of legal services to their clients and become more competitive. Since its enactment in 2012, we have been working closely with the Law Society on draft subsidiary legislation of the Ordinance. Significant progress on this front has been made, and we aim to finalise this matter and bring the Ordinance into operation soon.
We promoted co-operation between the legal professions of the Mainland and the HKSAR, and worked closely with the legal and dispute resolution services sectors to seek better access to the Mainland market under CEPA and other platforms. Following the signing of CEPA Supplement IX in June 2012, the maximum number of Mainland law firms with which a HKSAR law firm is allowed to operate in association has been relaxed to three. After the signing of CEPA Supplement X in August 2013, as a pilot measure, a HKSAR law firm and a Guangdong law firm are now able to enter into an agreement to enable the Guangdong law firm to second Mainland lawyers to work as consultants on Mainland law in representative offices of the HKSAR law firm in Guangdong. This is an improvement on the current restriction in the Mainland against representative offices of the HKSAR law firms employing Mainland practising lawyers. The new commitment took effect on 1 January 2014. The Agreement between the Mainland and Hong Kong on Achieving Basic Liberalization of Trade in Services in Guangdong was signed in December 2014. Liberalisation measures on legal services covered by this Agreement include allowing Hong Kong and Guangdong law firms to enter into association in the form of partnership in three pilot areas in Qianhai, Nansha and Hengqin.
The Secretary for Justice, Mr Rimsky Yuen, SC (fourth left), with the then Secretary for Administration and Justice of the Macao Special Administrative Region, Ms Florinda Chan, after the signing of the Arrangement Concerning Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards Between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Macao Special Administrative Region in January 2013
Following the new Arbitration Ordinance (Cap 609) which we promoted in the Legislative Council in 2010 (the new Ordinance established a unified arbitration regime in the HKSAR based on the UNCITRAL Model Law), the Division further promoted the Arbitration (Amendment) Ordinance 2013. The Amendment Ordinance amended the new Arbitration Ordinance in response to latest developments in the field of arbitration. In particular, it introduced a statutory mechanism for the enforcement of arbitral awards made in the Macao SAR by HKSAR courts to implement the Arrangement Concerning Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards concluded with Macao in January 2013. To meet the need of the arbitration community, the Amendment Ordinance also made clear that emergency relief granted by an emergency arbitrator is enforceable in accordance with the new provisions of the Amendment Ordinance.
In March 2014, the Solicitor General signed an agreement for and on behalf of the Government with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council for conducting a study on the development of arbitration in Hong Kong and the challenges and opportunities that Hong Kong faces as a regional centre for international arbitration in the Asia-Pacific region. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council has engaged a consultant to carry out the study, with a view to completing the study and delivering the final report in 2015.
The Secretary for Justice, Mr Rimsky Yuen, SC (fifth left), at the inauguration ceremony of the China Maritime Arbitration Commission Hong Kong Arbitration Center in November 2014
In December 2014, the Department of Justice established the Advisory Committee on Promotion of Arbitration to promote Hong Kong as a leading centre for international arbitration services in the Asia-Pacific region. The Advisory Committee, comprising representatives of key stakeholders and eminent members of the arbitration community, is responsible for overall co-ordination and strategic planning for the promotion of arbitration services. We hope that with the co-ordination of the Advisory Committee, concerted efforts made by various institutions and stakeholders of our dispute resolution services will take the promotion of Hong Kong’s arbitration services to another level.
Apart from assisting in policy initiatives, counsel of the Division also organised and participated in many conferences and events to promote the HKSAR’s legal and arbitration services, and to build up networks with legal professionals from other places. We feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to take part in and contribute to this purposeful cause.
We have also continued our efforts in facilitating the establishment and growth of world-class arbitration institutions in Hong Kong. In September 2012, the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission set up its first arbitration centre outside the Mainland in Hong Kong. In November 2014 the China Maritime Arbitration Commission, the sole professional maritime arbitration institution in the Mainland, also set up its Hong Kong Arbitration Center. The presence in Hong Kong of reputable arbitration institutions would further enhance Hong Kong’s position as a leading international arbitration centre in the Asia-Pacific region.