Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in the Hong Kong SAR under a statutory registration scheme or at common law, the details of which are set out below. As regards the enforcement of Mainland judgments in civil and commercial matters, it is governed by a separate regime (see section on “Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Civil and Commercial Judgments between Hong Kong and the Mainland”).
There is a statutory registration scheme for foreign judgments under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance, Chapter 319 of the Laws of Hong Kong ("Cap 319") to facilitate reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments on the basis of reciprocity.
A judgment creditor, with a judgment from a jurisdiction designated under Cap 319 may apply to the Court of First Instance, ex parte, for registration of the judgment provided that the relevant requirements as set out in Cap 319 are met. The judgment would then be registered and the judgment debtor would only be informed of the registration at this stage. The judgment debtor may apply to the court to set aside the registration on a number of grounds within a period of time in accordance with the relevant provisions of Cap 319.
With respect to foreign judgments that may not be registered under Cap 319, they may be enforced by common law.
The common law permits an action to be brought upon a foreign judgment. That is to say, a foreign judgment itself may form the basis of a cause of action since the judgment may be regarded as creating a debt between the parties to it. In a common law action for enforcement of a foreign judgment, the judgment creditor has to prove that the foreign judgment is a final judgment conclusive upon the merits of the claim. Such a judgment must be for a fixed sum and must also come from a "competent" court (as determined by the private international law rules applied by the Hong Kong SAR courts). The defences that are available to a defendant in a common law action brought on the basis of a foreign judgment include lack of jurisdiction, breach of natural justice, fraud and contrary to public policy.
It should be noted that a foreign judgment does not have to originate from a common law jurisdiction in order to benefit from the common law rules. Neither is reciprocity a requirement under the common law. Hence, a judgment originating from a jurisdiction which does not recognise a Hong Kong SAR judgment may still be recognised and enforced by the Hong Kong SAR courts provided that all the relevant requirements at common law are met.