Foreword by the Secretary for Justice

 
   

This is the eighth periodical review of the work of the Department of Justice. It is the fourth since I took office as Secretary for Justice in October 2005 and covers the period from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2011. The legal landscape keeps transforming, presenting new challenges as well as fresh opportunities. The department’s work has increased significantly in breadth and depth, which is being shouldered and discharged by colleagues with admirable dedication.

Over the last two years, my department has been instrumental in taking forward a number of significant legislative measures. In March 2011, the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property (Amendment) Ordinance came into effect, empowering Hong Kong courts to order financial relief for a former spouse whose marriage has been dissolved or annulled, or who has been legally separated, in proceedings outside Hong Kong. The new Arbitration Ordinance came into effect in June 2011, establishing a unified legal regime for domestic and international arbitration based on the Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration of the United Nations Commission on International Trade. In December 2011, amendments were made to the Enduring Powers of Attorney Ordinance to reflect proposals made by the Law Reform Commission to simplify the procedure for executing an enduring power of attorney.

In addition, my department has been responsible for a number of Bills which are currently under consideration by the Legislative Council. These include the Mediation Bill, implementing recommendations made in the February 2010 report of the Mediation Working Group which I chaired, and the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to introduce limited liability partnerships as a vehicle for solicitors’ practices in Hong Kong.

There have been important decisions by the courts in both criminal and civil matters in which counsel from my department have played a role. In June 2011, the Court of Final Appeal, for the first time since the promulgation of the Basic Law, referred several questions on state immunity for interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress pursuant to Article 158(3) of the Basic Law. The rights enshrined in the Basic Law have also been tested and clarified in a number of important cases in which my department has played a part in assisting the courts. Basic Law questions considered by the courts included the right to marry and what amounts to interference in the internal affairs of a religious organisation.

On the criminal law side, for the first time, a prosecution was brought under section 153P of the Crimes Ordinance, which extends the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts to certain sexual offences committed outside Hong Kong. In another case, the courts affirmed that the choice of the venue for a prosecution is a matter for the Secretary for Justice without any external interference. The Prosecutions Division is to be congratulated for the initiative to jointly organise a training programme with the Bar and the Law Society providing seminars and prosecution work opportunities for junior lawyers with under five years’ experience to enhance and consolidate their skills. The programme has been warmly received and widely applauded.

 
   

Reflecting the importance of Hong Kong’s connections with the wider world, the department’s activities have continued to extend beyond purely domestic issues. For instance, counsel from the department have worked with their counterparts in other jurisdictions on the establishment of a regional office in Hong Kong of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The department has also been heavily involved in promoting Hong Kong as a regional centre for international arbitration in the Asia-Pacific region. Nearer home, in November 2011, my department signed an agreement with the Shenzhen Municipal Government to discuss and exchange information on legal issues, including the development of modern service industries in Qianhai.

I cannot end this brief introduction to what the department has done over the last two years without paying tribute again to the dedication and skill of those who serve within it, whether lawyer or layman. The calibre of those staff members ensures that the Department of Justice is able to fulfil its important role in Hong Kong’s legal system.


(WONG YAN LUNG, SC)
Secretary for Justice
31 December 2011

 

Back to Top