The Hong Kong government has provided a wealth of online information, both legal and non-legal. Almost all the information is freely available with few local commercial sites.
One of the key providers is the Community Legal Information Centre (CLIC). It is a bilingual community legal information website and provides a quick internet guide for the general public to find relevant legal information in Hong Kong. The project is established by the China Information Technology and Law Centre (jointly run by the Faculty of Law and the Department of Computer Science) of the University of Hong Kong.
The HK Legal System
The primary constitutional document of HK is The Basic Law of the HK Special Administrative Region (“Basic Law”). The Basic Law was adopted on 4 April 1990 by the Seventh National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic Of China (“PRC”) and came into effect on 1 July 1997 when the British returned HK to China (“Hand-Over”).
Historically, the Basic Law arose from The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of HK (“The Joint Declaration”), which was signed between the Chinese and British Governments on 19 December 1984. The Joint Declaration sets out, among other things, the basic policies of China regarding HK. Under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”, the socialist system and policies shall not be practised in HK and HK’s previous capitalist system and life-style shall remain unchanged for 50 years. The Joint Declaration provides that these basic policies shall be stipulated in a Basic Law of the HKSAR.
In the Basic Law, HK continues to follow the common law tradition established by the British colonial rule. The Basic Law allows HK’s courts to refer to decisions rendered by courts of other common law jurisdictions and allows judges from other common law jurisdictions to participate in proceedings of HK’s Court of Final Appeal and sit as HK judges.
Pursuant to the Basic Law, the HK Government retains sovereignty over the territory except in areas of national defence and foreign relations. The Government is headed by the Chief Executive. The Government must abide by the law and be accountable to the Legislative Council.
Laws in Hong Kong are enacted only by approval of the Chief Executive and majority consent of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (“LegCo”). Half of LegCo’s seats are elected under universal suffrage with the other half selected by functional constituencies consisting of special interests and trade unions. The Basic Law guarantees that all seats will eventually be elected under universal suffrage.
Structurally, HK’s court system consists of the Court of Final Appeal, the High Court (comprising the Court of Appeal and the Court of First Instance) and the District Court (which includes the Family Court). Other quasi-judicial bodies include the Lands Tribunal, the Magistrates’ Courts, the Juvenile Court, the Coroner’s Court, the Labour Tribunal, the Small Claims Tribunal, and the Obscene Articles Tribunal. Justices of the Court of Final Appeal are appointed by HK’s Chief Executive. The power of final adjudication in HK vests in this Court of Final Appeal.
The power to interpret the Basic Law vests in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (“SCNPC”). The courts in HK can interpret, when deciding cases, provisions of the Basic Law which are within the autonomy of HK. However, if the Courts need to interpret the provisions of the Basic Law concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the PRC government, or concerning the relationship between the PRC government and HK, and if such interpretation will affect the judgments on the cases, the Court of Final Appeal, before making their final judgments, must seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the SCNPC.
Lawyers in HK are divided into barristers or solicitors. The vast majority of lawyers are solicitors, who are regulated by the Law Society of HK. Barristers are regulated by the HK Bar Association. Only barristers are allowed to appear in the Court of Final Appeal and the High Court. Just as the common law system is maintained, so are the common law courtroom customs such as the wearing of robes and wigs by both judges and lawyers.