Dennis Kwok eNewsletter APR 2020

8th April 2020
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Some further updates on what we have been doing.
  • Working together with practitioners and the Judiciary to find technological solutions to the GAP. I have written to the Judiciary Administrator and the CJHC to push for progress on this front. A list of technological proposals has been prepared for the Judiciary to consider. At the Special Finance Committee meeting on 7th April, I requested the Judiciary Administrator to announce the Phase 2 Videoconferencing specifications ASAP.
FYI – LegCo approved $680 million for the Judiciary IT plans in 2013. Resources should not be an issue.
  • Working with the two professional bodies to find ways of providing financial relief and support to members. Some of them have already been announced. I have asked the Administration to include professionals in the next round of Anti-epidemic Fund.
  • In particular, I have asked the Law Society President to consider waiving or substantially reducing the professional insurance premium for 2020. I understand this is being actively considered by the LS Council.
Stay safe, and if you have any questions please email my LegCo office. Thank you.
Yours Sincerely,
Dennis Kwok
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Dennis Kwok eNewsletter MAR 2020

23rd March 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 

Further Court Adjournments

 

Many of us are seriously affected by this second General Adjournment Period (GAP). Public health and safety are paramount, however, the late notification and the lack of alternative plans to use technological solutions are both disappointing. Following the 1st GAP, I have raised all these issues with the Judiciary Administrator, however, there has been no progress. This crisis highlights the urgent need for judicial technological reform which I have been calling for in the past 8 years, many of which do not require legislative change. The Judiciary (similar to LegCo) should have its own independent secretariat support instead of relying on civil servants.

 

In a meeting two weeks ago, I have asked the Chief Secretary to further expand the $80,000 assistant scheme to professionals.

 

I have also contacted both the Bar Council and the Law Society to ask them to consider implementing the following policies:

 

(I) immediately waive and/or refund the practising certificates fees for 2020/2021

 

(II) the Law Society should waive all insurance premiums for 2020/2021 given that the indemnity scheme is in a healthy financial state

 

(III) the Bar and the Law Society should consider giving financial assistance to junior barristers under 5 years’ call and small and medium firms respectively

 

I have asked the Legal Aid Department to immediately settle all outstanding fees owed to solicitors firms and counsel.

 

Stay safe and I shall keep you posted of developments.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Dennis Kwok

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Dennis Kwok eNewsletter FEB 2020

24th February 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

General Adjournment of Court Hearings – Update

The Judiciary has suspended all court hearings (save for a narrow spectrum of urgent applications) for more than 3 weeks now. It is expected that this suspension will continue for some time due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Whilst we understand why the Courts may have to be closed due to public health concerns, the lack of information and transparency from the Judiciary is disappointing. I requested the Judiciary Administrator (together with representatives of the Bar and Law Society) to attend the AJLS Panel meeting for an urgent discussion of this matter and the following issues:

  • Immediately enable the filing of applications and submissions via emails by setting up dedicated e-filing systems for each court, with clear details provided to litigants and practitioners. E-filing is long overdue and should have been set up many years ago.

  • All interlocutory applications should be dealt with by paper disposal as much as possible.

  • A clear plan to inform all stakeholders on the arrangement for hearings and trials once the Court resumes full operation. The information from the Judiciary so far is seriously lacking in detail. A doubling up of the effort to clear up backlogged cases is urgently required.

The $30 billion Relief Fund

The $30 billion Relief Fund has been approved by the Finance Committee of LegCo after more than 8 hours of deliberation on 21st February. During the meeting, I raised with the Administration on why there has been no relief provided to professional service sectors.

Professional services, like many others, have been hard hit by the Coronavirus outbreak, and we are the backbone of HK’s status as an IFC. This is clearly unacceptable, and I expect and demand the Administration to address this deficiency in the upcoming Budget.

Please stay safe, and contact me should you have any queries.

Yours Sincerely

Dennis Kwok

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Dennis Kwok eNewsletter APR 2019

9th April 2019

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Legal Aid Expansion

In this year’s Budget, we have finally seen a substantial increase in the annual budget for the Legal Aid Department which will be to the tune of an additional HK$117.5 million per year (i.e. +11.8%). These additional resources will be used to improve the efficiency of the Legal Aid Department which will hopefully address some of the long standing problems such as delay in payments to solicitors/counsel, and delay in approving legal aid applications. I have been working on this issue since I took office 7 years ago, and I will closely monitor the usage of these additional resources going forward.

On 25 Feb, I held a meeting with the Chief Secretary of HKSAR, together with the Chairman of the Bar and the President of the Law Society, to discuss ways to expand the scope of legal aid system so that more Hong Kong people could fall within its coverage. We have jointly presented proposals to the Administration, and are awaiting their response.

Extradition to PRC

I am sure most of you have followed the latest proposal by the HKSAR Government to allow extradition of HK citizens and foreign nationals to the PRC to face criminal trials. This proposal is deeply irresponsible and brings about a significant damage to our autonomy under ‘One Country, Two Systems.’

In the past month or so, I have reached out to numerous chambers of commerce, bar associations and foreign governments representatives to warn them about the serious implications of these proposals once implemented. During my recent trip to the United States, I met with officials at the White House and the State Department, and members of the U.S. Congress. The meetings all centred around the extradition issue and the state of ‘One Country, Two Systems.’ It is clear that the maintenance of the US-HK Policy Act, which is of vital importance to HK as an international city, is now on red alert due to recent developments. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China has issued a recent statement warning against the extradition proposals (click here).

Yours Sincerely

Dennis Kwok

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Dennis Kwok eNewsletter Feb 2019

25th February 2019

Dear Members and Friends,

Extradition of HK Citizens to Mainland China

The HK Government is now proposing to amend the existing legislation in HK in order to pave way for an extradition treaty with Mainland China. This is indeed the most worrying challenge for “One Country, Two Systems” since 1997. Once this amendment is passed, it means HK citizens could be extradited to Mainland to face trial in respect of a broad range of criminal offences. And it also gives new powers to the Chief Executive without LegCo oversight.

This is a wake-up call for Hong Kong. I hope the legal profession and the Hong Kong People would stand together and oppose the proposed legislative changes. We bear the responsibility to explain the full implications of these proposals to the Hong Kong People. In particular, I will be speaking to different international Chambers of Commerce and Consul Generals on this matter, and what this means for HK as an international financial and business centre.

Increase in Duty Lawyer scheme fees by 50%

Since I took office 7 years ago, I have been repeatedly calling for a substantial increase in Duty Lawyer fees in order to reflect the reality of how much members of the legal profession should be paid fairly and equitably under the Duty Lawyer scheme. The Administration and LegCo have recently approved the following increases:

(source: https://www.legco.gov.hk/yr18-19/english/panels/ajls/papers/ajls20190128cb4-452-6-e.pdf)

Increase Budget for the Department of Legal Aid

One of the chief problems faced by members who do legal aid work is the delay in payments and legal aid application approvals. I have worked with the Department of Legal Aid over the years with the hope to address these complaints. At the end of the day, our colleagues in the DLA need more resources and manpower to cope with their increasing workload. I have asked the Financial Secretary to substantially increase the annual budget for the DLA, and I expect this year’s budget to reflect this. I shall report further once the Budget for 2019-2020 is out.
Jailing of PRC Lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)

Mr. Wang Quanzhang, one of the lawyers arrested in the 709 crackdown in 2015, was recently sentenced to four and half years in prison after spending 4 years in secret detention. The continued persecution of human rights lawyers by the Mainland Chinese government is totally unacceptable and outrageous. I call on the Hong Kong legal profession to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow lawyers in Mainland China who are simply doing their work as a lawyer should. Please support the work of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

(For further information of the case of Wang Quanzhang, please refer to the website of China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group: https://bit.ly/2UnCUnG)

Kind regards,

Dennis Kwok

Dennis Kwok eNewsletter MAR 2017

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31 March 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Progress of the Arbitration and Mediation Legislation (Third Party Funding) (Amendment) Bill 2016

            The Arbitration and Mediation Legislation (Third Party Funding) (Amendment) Bill 2016 was tabled in LegCo late last year.  This bill expressly clarifies that third party funding of arbitration and mediation is not prohibited by the common law doctrines of maintenance and champerty. It also provides for related measures and safeguards for funding arrangements, stipulating that a body authorized under the Arbitration Ordinance will issue a Code of Practice setting out the standards and practices with which third party funders would be expected to comply. Notably, a third party funder must maintain access to a minimum of HK$20 million of capital and have in place adequate procedures and practices for managing conflict of interest.

The Bills Committee (which I chair) has jointly proposed a committee stage amendment to remove an unduly wide restriction prohibiting legal practitioners from providing arbitration funding services directly or indirectly, which has received across-the-board support from LegCo members. I believe that it is acceptable for the legal profession to participate in arbitration funding arrangements as arbitration is of a different nature from litigation, and there will be appropriate safeguards as long as law firms maintain sufficient capital access and proper measures to avoid conflict of interest. This is also in par with international standards such as the United Kingdom and the United States. There is keen competition in the international arbitration arena and it is important for Hong Kong to stay competitive with updated laws. It is expected that the Bill shall be voted on in May 2017.

Problems with new e-Legislation Website

Despite the goodwill of the Department of Justice to launch a more convenient online platform for all to access legislations, the performance of the newly launched Hong Kong e-Legislation website has been less than satisfactory. Browsing particular chapters of legislations has been difficult, and legislations are not easily located through general search engines, creating practical problems for legal practitioners. To ensure high quality access to the law, I have written to the Department of Justice to give feedback on the e-Legislation website and I will continue to monitor the progress as the government make improvements to the website. Please click the links to view my letter (https://goo.gl/oEnYSC) and the Department of Justice’s response (https://goo.gl/jclC0G).

Judiciary Developments

As you may know, there have been some hostile comments directed against the courts and specific members of the Judiciary who presided over certain cases, and such actions are deeply worrying. Being a developed jurisdiction and civilized society, judges should be able to decide cases free from fear and interference in Hong Kong. I have written to the Judiciary Administrator to inquire as to whether any measures to protect the personal safety of judicial officers have been put in place, and as Deputy Chairman of the AJLS Panel, I will ensure that any assistance required will be rendered to the Judiciary.

On the other hand, I am delighted to note that there has been an enhancement in judges’ pay packages last December, marking a significant step forward in improving the judges’ service conditions. The pay rise for CFI judges has already been approved by the AJLS Panel, and I will continue to fight for additional resources for the Judiciary in LegCo as I have done in the past few years. The raising of the retirement age for judges is another item which we are looking at.

Future Friday Tea Gathering

There will be a Friday Tea Gathering on 21 April 2017. Ms. Patricia Ho from Daly Associates will talk about the development of human trafficking and forced labour laws in Hong Kong. Please click here for further details and registration.

Kind regards,

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Dennis Kwok

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