The laws in force in the HKSAR include:

  1. the Basic Law;
  2. national laws listed in Annex III to the Basic Law as applied to the HKSAR;
  3. the laws, including the common law and the rules of equity, in force before July 1, 1997, except for any that contravenes the Basic Law or is amended by the legislature of the HKSAR; and
  4. laws enacted by the legislature of the HKSAR.

National laws relating to defence, foreign affairs and other matters outside the limits of the autonomy of the HKSAR may be listed in Annex III to the Basic Law for application in the HKSAR by way of promulgation or legislation by the HKSAR. Currently, 13 national laws are included in Annex III to the Basic Law. Under Article 158 of the Basic Law, an interpretation of a provision of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress is to be followed by the courts of Hong Kong in applying the relevant provision.

The vast majority of statute law in force in Hong Kong is made locally and contained in the Laws of Hong Kong. A great deal of legislation is made under delegated powers. This is called subsidiary legislation. For example, an ordinance may delegate to the The Chief Executive in Council (the Chief Executive with the advice of the Executive Council) the power to make regulations to deal with the details of the implementation of a legislative scheme.

Some aspects of Chinese customary law apply in Hong Kong. For example, under section 13 of the New Territories Ordinance (Cap. 97) the courts may recognise and enforce Chinese customs or customary rights in relation to land in the New Territories; and certain Chinese law and custom in relation to marriage and the status of children is recognised in the Legitimacy Ordinance (Cap. 184).

In terms of official languages, Article 9 of the Basic Law provides that “In addition to the Chinese language, English may also be used as an official language by the executive authorities, legislature and judiciary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. Both Chinese and English therefore have a part to play in the language of the law. In keeping with the Basic Law's provisions on bilingualism, all legislation in Hong Kong is enacted in both Chinese and English, and, under section 10B(1) of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap. 1), both versions “shall be equally authentic”. A court is empowered to use either or both of the official languages in any proceedings before it as it thinks fit.

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