Hong Kong courts embrace video technology
Hong Kong, 8 April 2020: Some good news, Hong Kong is making progress on using video technology for court hearings. As many of you are aware, our courts have been generally closed, bar emergency hearings, since late January due to the coronavirus pandemic and there appears little possibility of normal service being resumed soon. With the backlog of cases becoming critical, our Judiciary has been under mounting pressure from across the legal profession to find solutions.
The Chief Judge of the High Court, Jeremy Poon, has now issued a guidance note for remote hearings for civil business. He states that paper disposal of hearings not involving live witnesses have proved to be successful and should be the first resort as far as possible. And he continues: “Where oral submissions are still necessary the court will conduct remote hearings by means of available technology. A remote hearing can be conducted in and from any court room with VCF available, or in and from any court room where VCF can be made available.”
What types of cases can be heard via this method? All interlocutory applications or appeals in the Court of First Instance; final hearings usually dealt with on written evidence (without live oral evidence) such as applications for judicial review; and all civil appeals and interlocutory applications including applications for leave to appeal in the Court of Appeal.
As a result, we witnessed a small slice of history on Monday as a family court in the High Court used video conferencing in a divorce case. This was followed on Tuesday by a judicial review hearing concerning the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Council that was also conducted remotely. Now, I should stress these hearings took place in the Judiciary’s existing Technology Court, purpose-built some years ago to support video conferencing, enable display of electronic documents and hear testimony from overseas witnesses. It is just one court room, so we wait with interest to see how the new guidelines will work elsewhere in the High Court. Still, at a time when other jurisdictions such as the UK, Australia and states in the US are well ahead with remote hearings, this is welcome progress on an urgent issue.
Hong Kong recorded 24 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 21 yesterday, taking the city’s total to 935, which is just over .012% of the population. Fatalities remain at a remarkably low four. A ban on gatherings of more than four people at venues such as restaurants has been extended until 23 April and an extension on the closure of leisure facilities, including many bars and pubs, cinemas and gyms is expected soon. All signs are that the general closure of schools and universities is to be extended from its current deadline of 20 April to the end of May.
Amid all of this, we have continued working at Boase Cohen & Collins, where we are following strict hygiene regulations and utitlising phone calls, emails and video conferencing in place of face-to-face meetings. These are challenging times and I would like to thank all my colleagues for their continuing dedication and professionalism.
In closing, I’m again grateful to Dr David Owens for allowing me to share his latest Covid-19 update – always essential reading – and you can also access Ally Law’s COVIDAlly blog for information, insights and resources about the pandemic that are relevant to the business community.
Stay safe, everybody!
Boase Cohen & Collins