Strike deal on court judgments, HK urged
Supreme Court chief says mutual recognition of civil rulings is overdue
Hong Kong should not delay any further a long-awaited agreement on enforcing mainland civil court judgments in the city - and vice versa - the mainland's chief justice says.
Lawyers and business leaders in Hong Kong last night welcomed the prospect of such a deal, but said stumbling blocks remained. Chief among their worries were the quality of mainland justice and whether mainland authorities could enforce Hong Kong court judgments.
'Mainland courts might not arrive at judgments as impartially as Hong Kong courts do,' said Stanley Lau Chin-ho, deputy chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries. Still, he said an agreement would better protect the rights of Hong Kong businessmen investing on the mainland.
Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang told a closed-door legal seminar in Beijing he saw no reason why the two sides could not strike a deal given that the mainland and Taiwan had agreed mutual recognition of civil court judgments seven years ago despite their political differences.
Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie said during the seminar that she hoped an agreement would be reached soon.
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, deputy dean of City University's law school, who was also at the seminar, proposed a taskforce of judges and legal experts from two sides study how to resolve possible conflicts arising from reciprocal enforcement of judgments.
Barrister and lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said while people may be sceptical about the quality of mainland justice, international law required each jurisdiction to fully respect others' and not question whether they are inferior unless there is evidence that corruption or other unfair practices have occurred.
He said there was an urgent need for an agreement so that litigants knew which law would apply to them.
'There are three issues to resolve: which court assumes jurisdiction in which cases, whether mainland or Hong Kong law is applied and whether the judgment is recognised or enforceable. An agreement can avoid two courts arriving at mutually inconsistent decisions in cases where a lot of money and sometimes even civil liberties are involved,' he said. Mr Tong said such decisions were now made on a case-by-case basis.
He said foreign law was already applied in Hong Kong courts when necessary.
Law Society president Peter Lo Chi-lik said mutual recognition and enforcement of civil judgments was desirable, but many issues would have to be carefully tackled.
'The main reservations have been the very different systems in Hong Kong and the mainland - people are concerned with the process by which [mainland courts'] judgments are arrived at,' he said. 'What have to be fully investigated are these processes and then, if you have confidence in another judicial process, it can avoid multiplicity of litigation.'
Mr Lo said an agreement would have to come with conditions.
'What sort of judgments are recognised - would some village court judgment be included? When is the judgment considered final, when is a judgment not a judgment at all?' he said.
Mr Lau, of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said: 'I think lots of technical details have to be sorted out.'
University of Hong Kong associate law professor Simon Young said such an agreement would reinforce the autonomy of Hong Kong as a separate system, requiring formal legal agreements to make judgments on the mainland enforceable.
Professor Young said courts on the mainland were considered more reasonable in commercial than in criminal matters.
He saw the move as a small step to an eventual agreement on criminal cases as well.
About 170 judges and legal experts from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the mainland attended the Beijing seminar, a special session held during the World Jurist Association congress.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR LAWYERS
What kind of cases and judgments would be involved? Libel and labour disputes or purely commercial cases?
In what cases or circumstances would mainland or Hong Kong law be applied in the other jurisdiction's courts?
Which courts would qualify - would village court judgments also be equally recognised?
What happens if irregularities, such as corruption, are involved in the process?
What happens if one court refuses to enforce or respect another's judgment?