A number of ordinances establish tribunals to deal specifically with appeals against administrative decisions made under the ordinances in question. Given the increasing extent to which the person is affected by the decisions of officials, such appeal rights are assuming greater importance. These bodies include the Administrative Appeals Board, the Market Misconduct Tribunal and the Securities and Futures Appeals Tribunal.
In addition, there are a number of other bodies set up to oversee compliance with specific legislation and to which members of the public may have recourse if they feel aggrieved. These bodies include the Competition Commission, the Electoral Affairs Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data and the Ombudsman.
The Law Reform Commission considers and reports on such topics as may be referred to it by the Secretary for Justice or the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal of the HKSAR. Its membership includes academics, practising lawyers and prominent community members.
The Commission has published reports covering subjects as diverse as commercial arbitration, data protection, divorce, sale of goods and supply of services, insolvency, fraud, statutory interpretation, enduring powers of attorney, double jeopardy, class actions and adverse possession. The recommendations in many of its reports have been implemented, either in whole or in part. It is currently considering references on archives law, access to information, periodical payments for future pecuniary loss in personal injury cases and cybercrime.
The legal profession in Hong Kong is divided into two distinct and equal branches – solicitors and barristers. The distinction is based on the different nature of their work. The academic requirements for prospective solicitors and barristers in Hong Kong are the same. Both are required to complete a qualifying law degree and the postgraduate certificate in laws course before entering into the vocational training stage. To be admitted as a solicitor, one must complete two years of vocational training in a law firm; whereas for admission as a barrister, one must complete six months of pupillage in one or more sets of barristers' chambers and completion of 12 months of pupillage is required before an admitted barrister may obtain a full practising certificate. Lawyers practising within one branch of the profession are not, at the same time, allowed to practise within the other.
While the majority of members of the legal profession are engaged in private practice, a significant portion work in the public sector (such as the Department of Justice or the Legal Aid Department), or are employed as legal advisers to public or private organizations, or are engaged in teaching and research at one of Hong Kong's tertiary education institutions.
Solicitors engage in a wide range of legal services relating to, for example, capital markets, banking and finance, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and construction, family and probate, dispute resolution, criminal advocacy, administrative law matters and many other areas. About three quarters of solicitors holding a practising certificate are in private practice in law firms while the rest practise in corporations and other organizations.
With the amendments to the law and the introduction of an assessment regime in 2012, eligible solicitors are able to gain higher rights of audience through either the exemption or the assessment route and appear as Solicitor Advocates before the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal.
The Law Society of Hong Kong is the professional association of the solicitors’ branch. The Law Society has a certificating role in the admission procedure and it is empowered to:
Overseas lawyers not admitted to practice in Hong Kong are permitted to offer their services to the public in Hong Kong as practitioners of foreign law of their own jurisdictions or international law if they register as foreign lawyers with the Law Society in accordance with the requirements set out in the Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap. 159) and its subsidiary legislation. The practice requirements applicable to foreign lawyers in Hong Kong under the Foreign Lawyers’ Practice Rules (Cap. 159S) reflect those applicable to Hong Kong solicitors under the Solicitors’ Practice Rules (Cap. 159H). (For example, the applicant must be of good standing, qualified to practise the law of his or her jurisdiction of admission and be covered by professional indemnity insurance similar to the indemnity provided to a Hong Kong solicitor under the statutory Professional Indemnity Scheme.)
As at 31 December 2023, the HKSAR had over 11,000 practising solicitors, more than 900 Hong Kong law firms, plus more than 70 registered foreign law firms, over 1,400 registered foreign lawyers and more than 30 associations between registered foreign law firms and Hong Kong law firms.
Barristers specialize in contentious work and litigation work. They engage mostly in advocacy and advisory work and have rights of audience at all courts and tribunals where legal representation is allowed. They provide legal services to clients upon referral by solicitors and through other bodies (such as the Department of Justice, the Director of Legal Aid and the Duty Lawyer Service) as permitted under the Hong Kong Bar Association (“HKBA”)’s Code of Conduct.
Barristers are eligible to be members of the HKBA. The Bar Council of the HKBA, which is elected annually, is the governing body for barristers.
The conduct and etiquette of members of the Bar are governed by the HKBA's Code of Conduct as amended from time to time. Every barrister, whether in practice or not, must maintain the standards and professional integrity of the Bar. The Bar Council is responsible for investigating and considering complaints against the conduct of barristers. Should the circumstances warrant, the complaints will be referred to the Barristers Disciplinary Tribunal which will determine the matter and, if the complaint is found to be made out, impose the appropriate punishments.
When a barrister has attained a substantial level of accomplishment and recognition, and has been in practice for at least 10 years, he or she can apply to become Senior Counsel (a process generally known as"taking silk", a reference to the material of the gown they wear in court). The expertise of a Senior Counsel is usually sought in the more complex cases.
Barristers must practise as sole-proprietors (whereas solicitors are allowed to practise together in a partnership). While barristers usually practise in a set of chambers, their legal, financial and professional duties are separate and distinct from those of the other barristers sharing those chambers.
As at January 2023, there were over 1,600 practising barristers in HKSAR, including about 100 Senior Counsel.
The Hong Kong Society of Notaries is the governing body for notaries public, and the Chief Jugde is the appointing authority for notaries public. The Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal is responsible for appointing a Notaries Public Disciplinary Tribunal Panel from which the Notaries Public Disciplinary Tribunal shall in appropriate cases be constituted to inquire into the conduct of a notary public concerned.
As of January 2024, 365 solicitors were admitted to practise as notaries public in Hong Kong.
China-appointed attesting officers are qualified Hong Kong lawyers who have been appointed by the Ministry of Justice of the People's Republic of China after passing the prescribed qualifying examinations. Their scope of business includes attesting and certifying acts, matters and documents of legal significance occurring in or emanating from Hong Kong and such attested documents are for use in Mainland China. There were approximately 500 China-appointed attesting officers in Hong Kong as of 1 December 2023, and their name-list is maintained by the Association of China-Appointed Attesting Officers.
Legal aid is available for civil proceedings in the District Court, the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal (both part of the High Court), and the Court of Final Appeal. It also covers proceedings in the Mental Health Review Tribunal and cases in the Coroner’s Court if it is in the interests of public justice to do so.
Generally, an applicant must satisfy both the ‘means test’ and the ‘merits test’ as provided by the Legal Aid Ordinance (Cap. 91). For the means test, a person whose total financial resources do not exceed $433,010 may be granted Ordinary Legal Aid. (See below for the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme with a less restrictive means test.) If applicants have reached the age of 60, an amount equal to the aforementioned financial eligibility limit will be disregarded from their capitals, irrespective of their employment status, when calculating their disposable capital. Applicants can make use of the Means Test Calculator to give them an idea whether they are eligible for legal aid by accessing the webpage of Legal Aid Department. The Director of Legal Aid may waive the financial eligibility limit in meritorious cases when a breach of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance or inconsistency with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as applied to Hong Kong is an issue. For the merits test, the Director must be satisfied that an applicant has reasonable grounds for bringing or defending the civil proceedings to which the application relates. A person aggrieved by a decision of the Director may appeal to the Registrar of the High Court.
Legal aid is available for committal proceedings in the Magistrates’ Courts; cases tried in the District Court and the Court of First Instance of the High Court; and appeals from the Magistrates’ Courts and to the Court of Appeal of the High Court or the Court of Final Appeal.
An applicant must satisfy the means test criteria which are the same as for civil cases. Notwithstanding that an applicant’s financial resources exceed the statutory limit, the Director of Legal Aid may grant legal aid to the applicant if the Director is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of justice to do so. For appeal cases, the Director of Legal Aid must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for appeal.
Notwithstanding the refusal of a legal aid application by the Director of Legal Aid, a judge may himself grant aid if the applicant has satisfied the means test. Applicants in cases involving a charge of murder, treason or piracy with violence may apply to a judge for granting of legal aid, and exemption from the means test and from payment of contribution.
This scheme provides legal representation to the middle class whose financial resources are above the upper eligibility limit for legal aid (i.e. $433,010) but do not exceed $2,165,060. It covers the following types of cases where the claim is likely to exceed $75,000:
The scheme also covers claims under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance and representation for employees in appeals against awards made by the Labour Tribunal irrespective of the amount of the claim.
Four schemes of legal assistance, administered by the council of the Duty Lawyer Service which includes representatives from the Law Society and Bar Association of Hong Kong and lay members, are subvented by the Government.
The Duty Lawyer Scheme rosters barristers and solicitors in private practice to appear in the Magistrates’ and Juvenile Courts on a remunerated basis. The scheme provides representation to all juveniles (defendants under 16) and to most adult defendants charged in the Magistrates’ Courts who cannot afford private representation. The defendants are required to pay a handling charge of $610 upon granting of Duty Lawyer representation. In 2022, over 18,000 defendants were assisted.
The Care or Protection Proceedings Scheme under the Duty Lawyer Scheme covers care or protection proceedings under Section 34 of the Protection of Children and Juveniles Ordinance (Cap. 213). The scheme provides legal representation to children and juveniles who are detained or likely to be detained thereby being deprived of their liberty. In 2022, the number of subjects represented was 183.
The Free Legal Advice Scheme, staffed by 855 volunteer lawyers, operates advice sessions at nine evening centres. In 2022, more than 6,500 cases were processed. The scheme is not means tested.
A free Tel-Law Service offers trilingual (Cantonese, Putonghua and English) taped information on more than 80 topics. The telephone lines operate 24 hours. Descriptions were also available online. In 2022, more than 8,000 calls and more than 360,000 website hits were received.
The publicly-funded Legal Assistance Scheme for Non-refoulement Claimants provides legal representation and advice to claimants who have made non-refoulement claims under the Unified Screening Mechanism in respect of the following risks: (a) torture risk under Part VIIC of the Immigration Ordinance (Cap. 115); (b) risk to a person’s right to life and risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Articles 2 and 3 of Section 8 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383); and/or (c) the risk of persecution with reference to the non-refoulement principle under Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Up to 2022, a total of more than 24,000 cases were handled.
The Legal Advice Scheme for Unrepresented Litigants on Civil Procedures (formerly known as the Pilot Scheme to Provide Legal Advice for Litigants in Person) has been in operation since March 2013 to provide free legal advice on civil procedural matters for unrepresented litigants. The scheme assists unrepresented litigants who (a) are parties or who wish to join as parties to civil legal proceedings in the Lands Tribunal, the District Court, the Family Court, the Court of First Instance or the Court of Appeal of the High Court or the Court of Final Appeal (including commencement of proceedings); (b) have not been granted legal aid and have not engaged lawyers; and (c) are not seeking advice for limited companies, societies, associations.
See also the Judiciary’s Resource Centre for Unrepresented Litigants.
The Companies Registry (the Registry) is responsible for administering and enforcing the provisions of the Companies Ordinance and related legislation. Its primary functions include the registration of local and non-Hong Kong companies (i.e. companies incorporated outside Hong Kong which have established a place of business in Hong Kong); the registration of statutory returns and documents required by the various ordinances administered by the Registry; the provision of services for members of the public to inspect and obtain company information held on the Companies Register; the deregistration of defunct solvent companies; and advising the Government on policy, regulatory and legislative issues regarding company law, related legislation and corporate governance. The Registry also processes applications relating to money lender licences and maintains a register of money lenders for public inspection. Since 1 March 2018, the Registry has acted as the licensing authority for trust or company service providers (TCSPs) under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance (Cap. 615). Under the new licensing regime, TCSPs are required to apply for a licence from the Registrar of Companies and satisfy a"fit-and-proper" test before they can provide trust or company services as a business in Hong Kong. In addition, the Companies (Amendment) Ordinance 2018, which came into operation on 1 March 2018, introduced the requirement for companies to keep Significant Controllers Registers as part of the Government’s new initiatives to enhance Hong Kong’s regulatory regime for combating money laundering and terrorist financing. The Registry also provides secretariat support to the Standing Committee on Company Law Reform which advises the Government on amendments to the Companies Ordinance (Cap. 622), the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 32) and related legislation to ensure that they meet the changing needs of the business community.
The Intellectual Property Department serves as the focal point for issues on intellectual property protection. It provides expert advice on intellectual property policies and legislation as well as civil legal advice to the government on intellectual property. It operates the trade marks, patents, designs and copyright licensing bodies registries and exercises quasi-judicial functions on related registration matters. It promotes public awareness of and respect for intellectual property rights. It also facilitates and promotes the development of Hong Kong as an intellectual property trading hub in the Asia Pacific region.
The Land Registry is responsible for registration of instruments affecting land under the Land Registration Ordinance (Cap. 128) and providing services for search of the Land Register and related records to the public. The Land Registry is also responsible for registration of owners’ corporations under the Building Management Ordinance (Cap. 344) and providing services for search of the owners’ corporation records.
To provide greater certainty of title and simplify conveyancing procedures, the Land Titles Ordinance (Cap. 585) (LTO) has been enacted for the change from the current deeds registration system to a title registration system. The LTO will come into effect after completion of a comprehensive review and passing of an amendment bill. The Land Registry has been reviewing the LTO in consultation with the major stakeholders. To enable early implementation of title registration system in Hong Kong, the Land Registry is consulting the major stakeholders on the proposal to implement title registration system first on new land i.e. land granted by the Government after commencement of the LTO.
LACO is part of the Lands Department. It provides legal advice primarily to the Lands Administration Office of the Lands Department.
LACO is responsible for drafting and settling government land disposal and lease modification documents. LACO is also responsible for the preparation of documentation relating to the acquisition of land from private owners pursuant to statutory powers and the payment of compensation to those owners.
LACO administers the Lands Department Consent Scheme to approve applications by developers to sell units in uncompleted developments. It also approves Deeds of Mutual Covenant requiring approval under land leases.
LACO handles applications for consent to sell, consent to mortgage or charge and consent to underlet or license residential units under the “Hong Kong Property for Hong Kong People” measure.
LACO provides conveyancing services to The Financial Secretary Incorporated (FSI) for the extension of non-renewable leases, and in the sale and purchase of FSI properties. It also handles applications for the apportionment of premium and government rents under the Government Rent and Premium (Apportionment) Ordinance. In addition, it is responsible for the recovery of arrears of government rents in urban areas other than rents under the Government Rent (Assessment and Collection) Ordinance.
Unless an insolvency practitioner has been appointed, the Official Receiver is responsible for the proper and orderly administration of the estates of insolvent companies ordered to be wound up by the court under the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 32) and of individuals or partners adjudicated bankrupt by the court under the Bankruptcy Ordinance (Cap. 6).