Foreword by the Secretary for Justice

This is the sixth periodical review of the work of the Department of Justice. It is the second since I took office as Secretary for Justice in October 2005 and covers the period from 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2007. The breadth and weight of the department's workload continues unabated.

The department has assisted the courts in a number of important cases. Challenges brought under the Basic Law included consideration of the constitutionality of provisions relating to covert surveillance, of the requirement under section 98 of the Companies Ordinance that a company's register of members be open for public inspection, and of provisions in the Limitation Ordinance in respect of their consequences for private ownership rights. In these and other proceedings, the parameters of the Basic Law and the various rights it enshrines have been tested and clarified.

My department has continued to take an active role in enhancing mutual legal understanding with the Mainland and assisted in the discussions which led to the signing of an Arrangement by the HKSARG and the Supreme People's Court in July 2006 to establish a mechanism for reciprocal enforcement of court judgments between the Mainland and Hong Kong. Under the Arrangement, parties may seek to enforce specific commercial judgments obtained from the courts in one jurisdiction in the other. The Mainland Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council on 7 March 2007 to implement the Arrangement and was subsequently referred to a Bills Committee for scrutiny.

An ongoing concern of my department has been to improve access to justice and the availability of legal information in Hong Kong. Work on a major consultancy study on the demand for, and supply of, legal services continued during 2006 and 2007, with a final report expected early in 2008. A new Community Legal Information Centre website was established by the China Information Technology and Law Centre of the University of Hong Kong in conjunction with the department. It provides a user-friendly guide to legal information on a wide range of topics affecting people's daily lives, as well as information on legal services available in Hong Kong. The department's widely used Bilingual Laws Information System (BLIS) website was expanded in early 2007 to include a new webpage on major bilateral arrangements between the HKSAR and the Mainland and the Macao SAR.

Access to justice does not mean that civil disputes must necessarily be litigated through an adversarial process, with apportionment of liability and blame. Mediation, effectively conducted, can provide a relatively quick and inexpensive procedure, producing a satisfactory and amicable result, which both parties actively worked towards and can live with, and which will not destroy an existing relationship. With these advantages, mediation has become the global trend in the resolution of disputes.

Against this background, the Chief Executive in his October 2007 policy address pledged to develop mediation services in Hong Kong. Accordingly, in November 2007, my department was one of the co-sponsors of a successful conference to examine the current use of mediation in Hong Kong and in a number of overseas jurisdictions. At the end of the year, I established a cross-sector Working Group to look at ways in which mediation can be more effectively and extensively applied to resolve both commercial disputes and disputes at the community level.

My department has also taken the lead in moves to amend the Arbitration Ordinance in response to criticism that it is too complex and difficult to understand and has failed to keep pace with the needs of the modern arbitration community, domestically and globally. With the support of the Legislative Council's Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services, the department set up a working group to carry forward the reform proposals in a report by the Hong Kong Institute of Arbitrators. The department issued a consultation paper on 31 December 2007 which recommends that the Arbitration Ordinance should be completely redrawn to make it more user-friendly by applying the Model Law of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law equally to both domestic and international arbitrations in Hong Kong. This would remove the existing distinction between the two types of arbitrations in the Ordinance and replace it with a single regime.

On criminal matters, the Prosecutions Division played host in September 2007 to the 12th Annual Conference and General Meeting of the International Association of Prosecutors. The conference was attended by ministers of justice, attorneys general, chief prosecutors and prosecutors, representing 100 jurisdictions. In November 2006, the Prosecutions Division published The Policy for Prosecuting Cases involving Domestic Violence, setting out benchmarks for prosecutors, and indicating how the interests of domestic violence victims should be protected.

You will find further details of these and other initiatives in this review, which I hope gives some insight into the important role played by the Department of Justice within Hong Kong's legal system.

I should like to conclude by paying tribute to two senior colleagues who retired from the department after many years of distinguished service. Bob Allcock, the Solicitor General, retired in January 2007 and Tony Yen, the Law Draftsman, retired in March 2007. I thank them both for their unstinting efforts and for their much valued advice and support.

Secretary for Justice