The existence of a civil justice system enables individuals and corporations to effectively enforce their legal rights. If the system becomes inaccessible to segments of society, whether because of expense, incomprehensibility or otherwise, will people be deprived of justice?

    After the founder had passed away, Wo Him Tong was inherited by a pair of brothers. However, the brothers held vastly different views on how the shop should be operated. Since the brothers failed to reach consensus, Leung-him paid his brother a sum of money for him to start a new business and keep aloof from the operation of Wo Him Tong. Several years have passed and Wo Him Tong has been closed. Leung-wo files a lawsuit in court claiming half of the proceeds from selling the property;

    Mrs CHENG’s baby suffered from cerebral palsy and had inflexible limbs due to obstructed labour when she gave birth by natural childbirth. Feeling deeply aggrieved, Mrs CHENG decides to take legal actions and claim compensation from Doctor MAK. The two parties find Doctor SUNG to be their mediator, who will try to help them reach a settlement agreement through the eyes of a third party.


    • More than Words

      More than Words

      Every word in provisions of law is laid down on paper and made open to the public so that everything is crystal clear, thus safeguarding the rights of members of the public and ensuring that they will not break the law because of incomprehensibility.

      However, provisions are words in essence. With changes in society and differences across cultures, the same words can be interpreted in different ways.

      Having been under British rule in the colonial era and returned to China’s sovereignty, all provisions of law in Hong Kong, a small port, had to be made bilingual from the original English version. Imagine how you would express in Chinese the meaning of “addition”, which concerns the extra vending space of hawkers. Moreover, what is the official Chinese term for “easement”, which underlines the right that allows you to pass by your neighbour’s property every day?

      This kind of conflict is not unique in bilingual provisions. Ambiguity is in fact rampant even in the Chinese provisions alone. In a real case, for example, a family engaged representative visiting service for their imprisoned family member. Yet, the Government believed that the law merely provided for visits by relatives and friends of a prisoner. If a person was not a personal acquaintance known to the prisoner, they were not friends. After 7 years of legal proceedings, the judge at the Court of Final Appeal returned to the basics and analysed the intention behind the provisions in question.

      Provisions in law are formed by words, the presence of which inevitably gives rise to ambiguity. When we encounter ambiguity and choose to take the matter to court, effort and time have to be put in, so as to eliminate ambiguity. Meanwhile, however, the truth will be clearer upon presentation of arguments.

    • Unfinished Lesson

      Unfinished Lesson

      Hong Kong and Mainland China adopt different legal systems. The former has retained the common law system, which was used by Britain, while the latter adopts the civil law system. The two places’ understanding about the rule of law also varies. Since China’s reform and opening-up in 1980s, legal exchange and interaction between Hong Kong and Mainland China have gradually become frequent. The two legal systems have gone through the break-in period and fostered the commercial and economic development of the two places. The success rests mainly with the legal practitioners’ unremitting efforts to build the legal infrastructure. Professor Betty HO from the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong was the pioneer of legal exchange between Hong Kong and the Mainland.

      Professor Betty HO was born and raised in Hong Kong, and was familiar with commercial laws. During 1980s, she practised in a local law firm and was one of the few Hong Kong lawyers who took part in Mainland affairs back in those days. In 1992, Professor HO was invited to participate in devising the legal framework for the China’s state-owned enterprises to list in Hong Kong. During the working meetings between Hong Kong and Mainland China, Professor HO occasionally engaged in heated debates with the representatives of the Mainland, as she insisted in safeguarding the rights and benefits of the Hong Kong shareholders when state-owned enterprises came to list in the Hong Kong stock market. Professor HO was even more passionate about her legal education work. When she was teaching commercial laws at the University of Hong Kong, she was loved and respected by numerous students because of her conscientious teaching attitude. In 2002, Professor HO was hired by the Tsinghua University School of Law in Beijing. She resolutely left her job in Hong Kong and moved to Beijing alone to pursue her teaching career. Bringing the academic programme designed by her to Tsinghua University, Professor HO introduced the teaching of the common law system which was unprecedented in the Mainland at that time. She believed that legal education was one of the ways to foster a country’s development and improvement. In 2010, Professor HO, who had never been late, was absent at her last lesson. Her students went to her residence with doubt, and were surprised to find that Professor HO, who was always energetic, had passed out at home and become unconscious …

      In the course of legal exchange between Hong Kong and Mainland China, Professor HO’s generation was the builder and initiator of the legal systems. These days, China’s economy and global vision have greatly surpassed those in the early years of its reform and opening-up. Does Hong Kong still have certain roles under China’s well-established legal system based upon the rule of law?

    • An Unsilenced Voice

      An Unsilenced Voice

      50 years ago, 40 students and 3 academic staff gathered and talked about the rule of law inside a historical building located on Caine Road.

      John REAR, an academic staff who taught public law, had no experience in teaching and was illiterate in Chinese.  Nevertheless, he deliberately learnt how to write “rule of law” in Chinese and wrote it on the blackboard, hoping that his students would bear it in mind.  In fact, before starting his lecture, John REAR had already engaged in a polemic with the British Hong Kong Government as a legislative amendment had led to a case of making judgment before trial.  He had even been targeted at because of this incident, and he nearly failed in organising his law programme.  Fortunately, all problems were solved in the end.   John REAR’s law programme was launched successfully, while the seed was sown for the future Faculty of Law of The University of Hong Kong. 

      Half a century has passed, and the small seed has grown into a big tree.  People and things have been constantly changing throughout the journey.  However, the only thing that remains unchanged is that John REAR, a founder member of the Faculty of Law, has all along treasured the rule of law for 50 years, and he hopes that his students will treasure it like he does.

    • Imprint of the Times

      Imprint of the Times

      An individual’s fate is often not in his / her own hands in the torrent of the times.  For laymen, legal proceedings seem to have nothing to do with them.  But in fact, every detail of the legal provisions is closely related to everyone's life.

      After the reunification, by law, the interpretation of the identity of Hong Kong people and the right of abode in Hong Kong are based on Article 24 of the Basic Law.  Back then, like the other  statelesschildren who were born in the Mainland, Agnes, still a junior secondary school student, was waiting for the court’s ruling.  In 1999, the Court of Final Appeal ruled on the first case of right of abode in Hong Kong (the NG Ka-ling Case) that children of Chinese nationality born in the Mainland to Hong Kong people had the right of abode in Hong Kong, and the SAR Government had lost the case that had caused intense discussion and polarisation in the society. 

      At the end, the Chief Executive requested an interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC), and the ruling of the Court of Final Appeal was overturned, creating a big impact on the legal system of Hong Kong.  The incident had also caused an identity crisis of Hong Kong people and a great controversy in the interpretation of the right of abode.

      In the atmosphere of a legal controversy over the issue in China and Hong Kong, in 2001, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that under the Basic Law, Mainland children adopted by Hong Kong people have no right of abode in Hong Kong, and Agnes had lost her case.  However, as the public opinion and the Hong Kong people  sympathized with Agnes at that time, the Director of Immigration exercised his discretionary power to suspend her repatriation.  In October of the same year, the Mainland granted Agnes a one-way permit and finally she was allowed to legally stay in Hong Kong.

      After many years, the girl, who was not aware of her situation back then, was admitted to the Faculty of Law of The University of Hong Kong. She studied animal protection law in the Law School, and she took up voluntarily works at SPCA and provided legal support for it, which made her understand that if the law is outdated and cannot protect the disadvantaged, amendments should be made.  As such, she followed the  professors in the university to work on matters relating to animal protection law.

    • Redressing Injustices

      Redressing Injustices

      To the general public, what is the law?
      Is it social rules resulting from the combination of redundant words?
      Is it complex provisions that are irrelevant and distant to them?

      The Clinical Legal Education Course (CLE) is part of the undergraduate  programmes offered at the Faculty of Law of The University of Hong Kong (HKU).  Under the guidance of professors, student volunteers assist duty lawyers in providing legal service to members of the public who are seeking legal advice.  While gaining practising experience, students also learn how to listen to and respect the people in need.  As for members of the public in need, not only do they enjoy free legal advice, but are also provided with the support throughout an exhausting litigation process.  Since its launch in 2010, CLE has handled 1 545 cases up to 3 December 2018.

      Several months ago, Ben saw a recruitment advertisement on a job search website for the position of “Guesthouse Front Desk Trainee”.  Hired after a formal interview, he hoped that the job would enable him to support his livelihood as well as pursue his further study in Japanese.

      One day, Ben checked a customer in as usual.  Soon after the customer entered the room, three inspectors from the Office of Licensing Authority (OLA) rushed into the guesthouse, while the customer who went into the room also identified himself as an undercover agent of OLA.  They took a statement from Ben on the site, charging him of allegedly “managing” an unlicensed guesthouse.  However, the person-in-charge and manager of the guesthouse, who were in higher ranks than Ben, were not prosecuted.

      Managing an unlicensed guesthouse is a criminal offence that can lead to a fine and a criminal record upon conviction.  Ben sought multiple legal advice, all of which suggested that he should plead guilty and pay an affordable fine (HKD 10,000) to prevent long judicial proceedings and high legal costs. 

      Nevertheless, Ben understood that he would have a criminal record if he pleaded guilty easily.  Not to mention that he firmly believed in his innocence since he truly was not aware that the guesthouse was unlicensed when he started working there.  In addition, it was most infuriating that the recruitment advertisement by the concerned guesthouse was still posted on the job search website after the incident.

      With nowhere else to turn to, Ben sought help from the Faculty of Law of HKU and hence was assigned with the duty lawyers and student volunteers to take care of his case.  He was found guilty in the first instance and appealed, but the duty  lawyers and the student volunteers did not give up helping him. 

      Finally, he lodged an appeal to the Court of Final Appeal, which ruled in favour of him.  Not only did the ruling clear his name, but it also changed the court’s interpretation of “manage” in the relevant legislation.

      Through this case, students at the Faculty of Law of HKU hope that the community will reflect on the legislative intent of the relevant legislation.  Aspiring to seek justice for members of the public, law students certainly aim high.  Yet, litigation is very time-consuming that it inevitably affects people’s daily lives, even if they win the case in the end.  From the trial to having his conviction quashed upon appeal, Ben underwent judicial proceedings lasting for 2 years and 4 months.  The psychological burden borne by him was indeed unimaginable to outsiders.  So how do law students strike a balance between “seeking justice” and “people’s feelings”?  In addition, what other experience and sentiment, which are not found in books, would CLE offer?