Hong Kong has a key role in international legal services

Rimsky Yuen says Hong Kong's development as a hub for international legal services helps promote the rule of law while also keeping the city open to the rest of the world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 3:06am

Today, December 13, 2012, is an important date in Hong Kong's development as an international legal services centre. It is the date set for the opening ceremony of the Asia Pacific Regional Office of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The fact that the office has been established in Hong Kong represents a vote of confidence in our legal system and the implementation of "one country, two systems". It also reinforces Hong Kong's status as a regional hub for international legal services.

For years, it has been government policy to build and maintain Hong Kong as an international legal services centre. The setting up of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre in the mid-1980s was an early effort in this direction. In 2008, the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chambers of Commerce established its secretariat in Hong Kong - the first and thus far the only secretariat outside its headquarters in Paris. And, this September, the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission established its first arbitration centre outside the mainland.

The government's recent decision to allocate part of the space in the west wing of the former central government offices to house law-related non-government institutions also helps fortify this policy.

The policy plays an important role in promoting the rule of law, and also in maintaining Hong Kong as an international city.

The importance of the rule of law cannot and should not be doubted. I have on previous occasions reiterated the determination of this administration to steadfastly maintain the rule of law. Although this is not the occasion to discuss in detail the concept of the rule of law, it is necessary to stress that the concept has both domestic and international dimensions.

It is, of course, important to ensure that all Hong Kong people can enjoy their rights and freedom enshrined under the Basic Law, the Bill of Rights and other relevant legislation. It is no less important to ensure that the legal system of Hong Kong and our legal infrastructure can properly interact with those of other jurisdictions and function efficiently on an international level, so that activities with international elements can be undertaken and regulated (and, when necessary, enforcement action taken) according to a set of common standards consistent with the fundamental concept of the rule of law.

Apart from being an international and cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong is well recognised as an international centre for financial, shipping, logistics and other commercial activities. Among others, the availability of a wide range of top quality legal services on both a domestic and international level has made a significant contribution to this state of affairs.

To continue Hong Kong's success story and maintain an edge over other cities in the Asian-Pacific region, it is important to enhance Hong Kong's international presence and ensure our legal system and legal infrastructure remain at the forefront of international development. Accordingly, the policy to maintain and enhance Hong Kong's status as an international legal services centre is one which we can ill afford not to pursue.

Taking part in the meetings of the Hague Conference and the efforts to procure the setting up of its regional office here are steps in the implementation of this policy.

Since its first session in 1893, the Hague Conference has become a global inter-governmental organisation with 72 members (71 states and the European Union). Further, an increasing number of non-member states are becoming parties to the Hague Conventions. Its goal is to work for a world in which, despite the differences between legal systems, both people and legal entities can enjoy a high degree of legal certainty.

The principal method used by the Hague Conference to achieve its goal is the negotiation, drafting and adoption of multilateral treaties or conventions in different fields of private international law. Conventions hitherto adopted cover a wide variety of matters, including those concerning child abduction, inter-country adoption, protection of children, international recovery of children and family support, divorce, service abroad of judicial and extrajudicial documents, taking of evidence abroad in civil and commercial matters, the abolition of legalisation for foreign public documents, choice of court agreements and holding of securities by intermediaries. These matters are relevant not only to commercial activities, but also personal and family activities, which are likewise becoming more and more international.

Since 1998, representatives from Hong Kong have been participating in meetings of the Hague Conference as part of the Chinese delegation. This is made possible by the relevant provisions in our Basic Law. In 2008, Hong Kong hosted the third Asia-Pacific regional conference. Since then, with strong support from the central government, efforts have been made to procure the setting up of the regional office in Hong Kong. In April, the proposal was endorsed.

My predecessor, Wong Yan-lung, SC, has aptly likened the work of the Hague Conference to the building of bridges, helping to link up different jurisdictions with different legal systems and traditions around the world. Following this analogy, the setting up of the regional office in Hong Kong will make the city an important hub in this global network of bridges.

The question of how Hong Kong should position itself is an important one in shaping its future. On top of sparing no efforts to maintain the rule of law and resolving livelihood issues, it is crystal clear that Hong Kong should stay international.

Further steps should be taken to engage with, as well as attract, reputable international law-related institutions to establish a regional office or centre in Hong Kong. More efforts should be made in the promotion of Hong Kong as a regional hub of dispute resolution (especially through arbitration and mediation). On the basis of what Hong Kong has thus far achieved and with the support of the relevant stakeholders, the future development in this regard is a promising one.

Rimsky Yuen, SC, is Secretary for Justice