Law Drafting Division

Most major public policies are implemented through legislation. The task of keeping pace with the demands of a crowded legislative timetable falls on the Law Drafting Division which is responsible for drafting all legislation, both Ordinances and subsidiary legislation (such as rules and regulations), proposed by the Government. It also vets all non-Government Bills and all subsidiary legislation put forward by non-Government bodies to make sure that they comply with current drafting practice on format and style. The division is also responsible for ensuring that the published version of Hong Kong's legislation is up to date.


Hong Kong's legislation comprises over 670 Ordinances.
Where a Government proposal for new legislation is put forward, the drafting counsel will need to liaise with those making the proposal to gain a thorough understanding of the background and intended effect of the proposal. The drafting counsel must also analyse the drafting instructions carefully to ensure that the proposal is conceptually sound and legally effective. "Drafting instructions" refers to the document prepared for the draftsman by the responsible Government policy bureau which sets out the background to the proposal and what the bureau wishes to achieve with the new legislation. The drafting instructions also specify which existing provisions will need to be amended in order to achieve that end.

After the proposed legislation is drafted, the drafting counsel assists in steering it through the legislative process. In the case of Government Bills and subsidiary legislation to be made by the Chief Executive, the legislation will be submitted to the Executive Council for consideration. Drafting counsel attend the Executive Council meetings to provide advice on general legal issues and on questions relating to drafting.

Usually, a Bills Committee (made up of members of the Legislative Council with an interest in the particular policy area or the subject of the bill) will be established to consider a Bill after it has been introduced into the Legislative Council. The drafting counsel attends the Bills Committee meetings to advise on general legal issues and on drafting-related questions. He or she also drafts all committee stage amendments (that is, changes to the Bill arising from deliberations at the Bills Committee stage) which are proposed, or agreed to, by the Government. These amendments are considered and decided upon before the Bill is put to the vote for its final reading in the Legislative Council meeting. Likewise, if an item of subsidiary legislation should be referred to a sub-committee after it has been laid on the table of the Legislative Council, the drafting counsel will attend the sub-committee meetings and draft any amendments which the Government may require.

Apart from drafting legislation for policies initiated by the Government, the division also undertakes any drafting work necessary to apply to Hong Kong relevant national laws of the PRC (that is, those listed in Annex III to the Basic Law), including the English translations of those laws.

Hong Kong's legislation is fully bilingual, with all new legislation being drafted and enacted in both Chinese and English. Both language versions of a piece of legislation are equally authentic, and drafting counsel must therefore ensure that the text in each language bears the same meaning and correctly reflects the policy intention.

Drafting counsel assist in steering proposed legislation through the legislative process.

Compilation and publication of laws

Hong Kong's legislation is published in both a hard copy loose-leaf edition and in electronic form freely available over the internet. For the hard copy version, which contains the bilingual texts of all Ordinances and subsidiary legislation, periodic issues of new or replacement pages incorporating new legislation or amendments to the texts are sent to subscribers, who need only substitute them for the outdated pages. The hard copy version now comprises 44 volumes, containing over 670 Ordinances and 1,330 items of subsidiary legislation. Volume 1 of the loose-leaf edition includes for reference the Basic Law and the national laws that apply to Hong Kong, as well as other constitutional instruments and related decisions.

Proposed legislation is published in the Gazette as a Bill.
The on-line legislation database, known as the Bilingual Laws Information System (BLIS), is available free to the public on the internet either directly at or through the department's homepage at In addition to providing access to the current legislation of Hong Kong, the database also allows the public to retrieve the previous version of any statutory provision which has been repealed or amended since 1 July 1997. A marker placed against a section heading alerts the reader to the fact that that provision has been amended or repealed (and the amendment or repeal has taken effect) but the changes have not yet been incorporated in the text of the database. Changes to the text of the database are usually made within two to three weeks of the commencement of the amendment or repeal.

Performance indicators

For many years, the division has measured its workload largely by reference to the volume of legislation, as represented by the number of pages of legislation published in the Gazette. That provided a realistic reflection of the division's workload in the days when enacted legislation differed little from the form in which it was first published in the Gazette as a Bill, and when legislation was straightforward. Increasingly, however, legislation is now of a more complex nature, and the draftsman has become more involved at the initial stages of formulating a legislative scheme, as well as participating in the legislative process as the Bill progresses to enactment.

To reflect the changed role of drafting counsel, new performance indicators have been developed in addition to the ones that the division has been using for years. The statistics compiled under the various indicators (shown in the statistics section at the back of this review) offer a clearer view of the different facets of the legislative drafting work undertaken by the division.

Significant initiatives and reforms in 2006 and 2007

The division values opportunities to broaden drafting counsel's exposure to the latest trends in legislative drafting. In-house talks and workshops were organised to encourage the sharing of drafting skills. The division's in-house mentorship programme also encourages senior drafting counsel to impart their legislative drafting knowledge and experience to their junior colleagues.

To keep up with the latest trends in plain legislative drafting, the division invited Professor Peter Butt of the University of Sydney to deliver a seminar on the subject in April 2006. Professor Butt is a universally known promoter of plain legal language and is a former President of Clarity, an international plain legal language organisation.

The Acting Law Draftsman, Gilbert Mo (far end, middle), briefs a delegation of officials from the Shenyang Intermediate People's Court on the work of the division (December 2007).

The Acting Law Draftsman, Gilbert Mo (second from right), and the Acting Deputy Law Draftsman (Bilingual Drafting and Administration), Fanny Ip (first from right), attend the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel Conference 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya (September 2007).

Gilbert Mo, Principal Government Counsel, Law Drafting Division
Gilbert Mo first joined the Government in 1987 as a Legal Aid Counsel in the Legal Aid Department. The following year, he joined the then Legal Department as a Crown Counsel and has worked since then in the Law Drafting Division. Gilbert was promoted to Senior Crown Counsel in 1989, Senior Assistant Law Draftsman in 1995 and his current post of Deputy Law Draftsman (Bilingual Drafting and Administration) in 1998.

Gilbert is the most experienced bilingual legislative counsel in the division. Over the years, he has drafted a wide range of important legislation, including the Bills on Hong Kong's reunification with the mainland of China and the election of the Chief Executive of the HKSAR.

"Drafting legislation required to move society forward is an immensely challenging and satisfying job I can never get bored with," Gilbert says. "I'm in my 20th year in the trade, yet I'm still excited by every new assignment."

Outside the office, Gilbert is actively involved in a variety of community services. He is a council member of the Hong Kong Committee for the United Nation's Children's Fund. He is also a scout leader, school manager and honorary legal adviser to a number of bodies.

"As civil servants, we are fortunate to have stable jobs. Rendering voluntary service to the community is something we can, and should, do more."

Rayne Chai, Senior Government Counsel, Law Drafting Division
Rayne Chai graduated from the University of Hong Kong and was admitted as a solicitor in 1989. She began her career in private practice, with conveyancing and probate as her major practice areas. In 1999, Rayne joined the department as a Government Counsel in the Bilingual Drafting Unit of the Law Drafting Division and she has worked there since then. She was promoted to Senior Government Counsel in 2006.

Life as a drafter is busy yet gratifying for Rayne. "I find it challenging and meaningful to work on a Bill," she says. "I see it as the product of a collective vision to serve the community." Rayne's interest in writing extends beyond drafting. She has won first prize on each of the three occasions she has entered the Chinese Essay Competition organised by the department's Standing Committee on the Use of Chinese.

Outside work, Rayne is an amateur vocalist and has been a Fellow of the Trinity College of Music in London since 1993. She has sung at numerous venues, including Government House, St John's Cathedral and City Hall, and organises Christmas carol-singing and other musical events every year in the department. Rayne is also active in the church and other voluntary services and conducted the mega choir for the Global Day of Prayer at the Hong Kong Stadium in 2005 and 2006.

Rayne manages to combine her many commitments with being a mother of three children. "Life is such a sweet balance of different labours, yet 'the secret of life is that all we have and are is a gift of grace to be shared'," says Rayne.