COVID-19 unfortunately seems determined to linger and continue to affect part of our lives. Civilisation has to cope with it as a whole in solidarity. I think it is important that apart from some solidarity as we see in the world, as the Secretary-General of the UN said in the World Health Assembly, we need to have more unity. Unity in the sense of better coordination amongst places. Supply chain of goods and services will also have to be coordinated if we move from solidarity to unity in a more systematic way.
Hong Kong has been playing its part in measures that may be described as recognize, strategize, legalize and revitalize, like what I said in a webinar (https://spblegalforum.com/en/Video_Addresses). The recent third wave may need us to revive and modify what has been done so as to contain the damage whilst getting ready for the new normal.
In controlling borders as one of the first strategy, exemptions have to be introduced. The Department of Justice introduced a mechanism for eligible legal practitioners, arbitrators or mediators to apply for exemption from the compulsory quarantine arrangement (www.doj.gov.hk/eng/public/20200519_sjo1.html). We further expanded the scope to allow more legal practitioners who are providing necessary professional services in relation to important and large-scale commercial transactions for exemption. Without such move, some proceedings might need to be postponed. On the other hand, this measure helps contribute to maintaining Hong Kong as a capital raising centre for Mainland enterprises as many listing work nowadays ties with the Mainland.
The LawTech Fund, which was established by the Government under the second round of the Anti-epidemic Fund to subsidize eligible law firms and barristers’ chambers in procuring and upgrading information technology systems, encourages the use of technologies in the provision of legal services in light of the General Adjourned Period by the Judiciary. More than 290 applications have been received so far. As some practitioners are looking for more time in preparing their applications following the announcement of the Judiciary’s expanded practice for remote hearings through the use of video-conferencing facilities, we have extended the closing date to July 26. This also allows them to take into account the Judiciary’s integrated court case management system, an electronic mode for handling court-related documents and payments, in procuring suitable LawTech equipment.
Last but not the least, the COVID-19 Online Dispute Resolution Scheme (www.ebram.org/covid_19_odr.html) managed by eBRAM was launched to facilitates negotiation, mediation and arbitration between parties through an online platform to resolve disputes arising from or related to COVID-19. This speedy and cost effective means to resolve disputes, becoming a new normal in our daily life, may help relieve court’s caseload in civil claims. At the same time, it also has the benefit of job creation and job advancement for mediators and arbitrators (including their pupils).
The pandemic has caused an unprecedented impact on Hong Kong's economy. The Government must take resolute and exceptional measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating. We have been closely monitoring the situation in the legal and dispute resolution sector to provide timely support. Let’s remain vigilant and be aware of as well as prepared for the changes that sweep across the globe.
July 12, 2020