Cross-border accord on court rulings raises fears about bias

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2006, 12:00am

Fears were raised yesterday that an impending agreement on cross-border court rulings might hurt Hong Kong businessmen involved in disputes on the mainland.

Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung earlier this week said Hong Kong was close to signing an agreement on the reciprocal enforcement of judgments in commercial cases involving monetary compensation.

Chairman of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Business Association, Simon Shi Kai-bui, said he was worried the deal would expose Hong Kong businessmen to rulings obtained through questionable means in mainland courts.

Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, added that the mechanism for enforcing court judgments on the mainland remained weak and cited cases where even upon victory, Hong Kong people failed to get court orders implemented there.

'From our experience with the courts in China, the judges are not totally independent and many companies there are either not totally private or the businessmen are party or ex-government officials and have relationships with the courts,' Mr Ho said.

'This makes it easy for them to influence judgments. They can even persuade the Public Security Bureau to detain people.

'If now the Hong Kong courts have to follow the decision of Chinese courts and enforce them, I'm worried mainland business partners will abuse the system even more because the judgment can actually be enforced here.'

Mr Shi said he agreed with the government in signing the pact, which will be narrowly drafted with a specified list of mainland courts to which it would apply, but he was worried about potential for abuse.

'If Hong Kong people win in mainland China or in Hong Kong against a mainland company, they would still find it difficult to get the court order enforced on the mainland because even mainland policemen sometimes do not follow court orders,' he said.

'But if mainland businessmen sue Hong Kong people and win, even through corruption, they can ask Hong Kong courts to enforce the judgment and will surely get their money in the end.'

Hong Kong courts could refuse to enforce a judgment obtained on the mainland if it is proven to be fraudulently obtained, but Mr Ho said small businessmen here would have difficulty proving foul play.

'I've handled more than 100 cases in the big cities where Hong Kong people do business,' he said. 'It is very difficult to prove that the mainland partners influenced the court even when it is obvious.'

Mr Ho said the crux of the problem was 'whether there really is rule of law in the mainland'.

Mr Shi told of a case where a Hong Kong toy manufacturer won a copyright infringement lawsuit against a Chinese company three years ago. She got a judgment awarding her damages, but there is still no sign of the money.