Hong Kong: the international arbitration centre for Asia Pacific region

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Arbitration Ordinance (Cap.609)

In June 2011, a new Arbitration Ordinance (Cap.609) ("the Ordinance") came into effect to reform the arbitration law then in force by unifying the dual regimes for domestic and international arbitrations. The Ordinance is based on the Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (“Model Law”), which is well understood by practitioners from both civil law and common law jurisdictions and familiar to the international business community.

The reform under the Ordinance has the following features:

  • Making our arbitration law more user-friendly to arbitration users both in and outside Hong Kong by unifying the separate regimes of domestic and international arbitration under a self-contained legislation which gives legal effect to those provisions of the Model Law that are applicable to Hong Kong;
  • Enhancing confidentiality for international arbitration by providing that court proceedings relating to arbitration are generally not to be heard in open court and prohibiting the publication, disclosure or communication of any information relating to arbitral proceedings and awards unless otherwise agreed by the parties or under any exceptions in the Ordinance;
  • Allowing foreign law firms and practitioners to engage in and advise on arbitration in Hong Kong and parties in arbitration may retain advisers regardless of their nationalities and professional qualifications;
  • Limiting the court’s powers of intervention in arbitral proceedings to certain circumstances and restricting the power of appeal to proceedings which determine substantive rights with a view to ensure fair and speedy resolution of disputes by arbitration; and
  • Retaining the status quo of domestic subcontracting agreements in the construction industry applying the domestic regime by opt-in provisions.

The Arbitration Ordinance has since been amended over the years to ensure that Hong Kong’s arbitration law stays abreast of international developments, to consolidate Hong Kong’s competitiveness as a leading international arbitration centre and to promote Hong Kong as a preferable seat of arbitration for both local and overseas parties. The primary objects of each amendment are set out below:

  • Arbitration (Amendment) Ordinance 2013
    • Implementing the Arrangement Concerning Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards Between the HKSAR and the Macao SAR (“the Arrangement”), concluded in January 2013, to facilitate summary recognition and enforcement of Macao arbitral awards by Hong Kong courts under the Arrangement.
    • Clarifying that emergency relief granted by an emergency arbitrator in or outside Hong Kong is enforceable in accordance with the Ordinance.
  • Arbitration (Amendment) Ordinance 2015
    • Removing legal uncertainties relating to the opt-in mechanism under Part 11 of the Ordinance such that parties opting for domestic arbitration could decide on the number of arbitrators whilst retaining their right to seek the Court’s assistance on certain matters set out in the Ordinance.
  • Arbitration (Amendment) Ordinance 2017
  • Arbitration and Mediation Legislation (Third Party Funding) (Amendment) Ordinance 2017

Worldwide Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards

Arbitral awards made in Hong Kong can be enforced in all State parties to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

Cooperation with the Mainland and Macao on arbitration-related matters

In order to complete the network for recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards, the HKSAR has respectively entered into reciprocal arrangements with the Mainland and the Macao SAR, namely an arrangement between Hong Kong and the Mainland for reciprocal enforcement of arbitral awards and an arrangement between Hong Kong and Macao for reciprocal recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards between the Mainland and the HKSAR signed on 21 June 1999 and came into effect on 1 February 2000 (“1999 Arrangement”), the Supreme People’s Court and the Department of Justice have jointly published a Compendium of Notable Cases of Mainland and Hong Kong judgments concerning enforcement of arbitral awards under the 1999 Arrangement. Each side has chosen five notable cases and the Compendium can be found at the Publications of this website.

Further, pursuant to the Arrangement Concerning Mutual Assistance in Court-ordered Interim Measures in Aid of Arbitral Proceedings by the Courts of the Mainland and of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, parties to arbitral proceedings seated in the HKSAR and administered by designated arbitral institutions may apply to the Mainland courts for interim measures, including property preservation, evidence preservation and conduct preservation. Notably, Hong Kong has become the first jurisdiction outside the Mainland where, as a seat of arbitration, parties to arbitral proceedings administered by its arbitral institutions would be able to apply to the Mainland courts for interim measures.

Over the last ten years, there has been an increasing number of reputable international legal and dispute resolution institutions setting up offices in Hong Kong, reinforce our position as a leading international arbitration centre in the Asia Pacific region:

  • Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (“HKIAC”): HKIAC is Hong Kong’s own home-grown arbitration body established in the 1980’s and is totally independent, free from governmental interference. HKIAC has been designated under the Ordinance to appoint arbitrators and to determine the number of arbitrators where the parties to a dispute are unable to agree.
  • The International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC-ICA): In November 2008, the Paris-based ICC-ICA has opened the first overseas branch of its Secretariat in Hong Kong to serve ICC arbitration in the Asia-Pacific Region, namely ICC-ICA – Asia Office.
  • China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (“CIETAC”): CIETAC was established in 1956 and is China’s oldest and most experienced arbitration institution, accepting the majority of foreign-related arbitration cases in China. In September 2012, CIETAC established its first branch outside the Mainland in Hong Kong, namely the CIETAC Hong Kong Arbitration Centre.
  • China Maritime Arbitration Commission (“CMAC”): CMAC was established in 1959 and is the sole maritime arbitration institution in China. In November 2014, CMAC established a branch in Hong Kong, namely the CMAC Hong Kong Arbitration Centre.
  • Permanent Court of Arbitration (“PCA”): PCA was established in 1899 by the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes and has developed into a modern and reputable arbitral institution handling international investment arbitration with its headquarters in The Hague.  In January 2015, the PCA signed a host country agreement with the Central People’s Government and a related memorandum of administrative arrangements with the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to facilitate the conduct of PCA-administered arbitration in Hong Kong, including state-investor arbitration.  
  • The Hong Kong Maritime Arbitration Group (“HKMAG”): HKMAG was originally formed in February 2000 as a division of HKIAC and became an independent organization in March 2019. HKMAG has the specific aim of the promotion of the development and use of maritime arbitration and mediation in Hong Kong.
  • eBRAM International Online Dispute Resolution Centre (“eBRAM”): eBRAM was established in June 2018 and is an independent and not-for-profit organisation under Hong Kong law. It provides a new online dispute resolution platform in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong and Japan sign Memorandum of CooperationDepartment of Justice co-organises Hong Kong Forum on 60th Anniversary of the New York Convention on international arbitration

To further promote Hong Kong as a leading centre for international arbitration services in the Asia-Pacific region, the Secretary for Justice has set up an Advisory Committee on Promotion of Arbitration, comprising representatives from the DoJ and the legal, arbitration and relevant sectors in Hong Kong. Overseas arbitration experts may also be appointed from time to time to assist in the work of the Advisory Committee either generally or on specific issues.

The Inclusive Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Office (“IDAR Office”) was established on 2 January 2019 to provide support to the Secretary for Justice in planning and taking forward initiatives to enhance Hong Kong’s role as a deal making hub and a leading international legal and dispute resolution services centre.

The IDAR Office receives support from the Arbitration Unit and China Law Unit of the Legal Policy Division, the Mediation Team of the Civil Division and the International Organizations and Legal Cooperation Team of the Treaties & Law Unit of the International Law Division, to enhance the overall coordination of the Department's promotional work for international legal and dispute resolution services.

The IDAR Office organises, supports and encourages a variety of major and international events and capacity building programmes to raise the international profile of Hong Kong, including the annual “Hong Kong Arbitration Week”. For more details about the past and upcoming key legal and dispute resolution events in Hong Kong, please visit the Legal Hub’s website.

Further information about arbitration in Hong Kong may be obtained from:

Department of Justice