Hong Kong

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Type of System

The legal system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the HKSAR) differs from that of the majority of the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) and is based on the common law. This is because Hong Kong was previously a British colony. On 1 July 1997 Hong Kong was handed back to the PRC.

The Basic Law and the Continuation of the Existing Legal System after 1 July 1997

The constitutional framework of the HKSAR is provided by the Basic Law. It has been enacted by the National People’s Congress (the NPC) of the PRC under Article 31 of the Chinese Constitution.

The Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the PRC on the Question of Hong Kong (the Joint Declaration) and the Basic Law guarantee the continuance of the pre-existing legal system after the PRC regained sovereignty over Hong Kong on 1 July 1997.

The laws in force in Hong Kong before 1 July 1997 continued to apply in the HKSAR after that date except for those which contravened the Basic Law. Some legislation was adapted to ensure compliance with the Basic Law and to reflect Hong Kong’s status as a Special Administrative Region of the PRC.

The Courts

The existing courts and tribunals were re-established on 1 July 1997 although some were renamed. The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal was established to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the highest court of appeal. All serving judges were reappointed by the HKSAR’s Chief Executive on 1 July 1997.

Pursuant to the Basic Law, judges from other common law jurisdictions may be invited to sit on the Court of Final Appeal.

The courts in Hong Kong are the following:

  • Magistrates’ Court
  • District Court
  • Court of First Instance (the CFI)
  • Court of Appeal
  • Court of Final Appeal

The Laws

The laws in force in the HKSAR are:

  • (a) the Basic Law;[1]
  • (b) the 12 national laws listed in Annex III to the Basic Law as applied to the HKSAR by way of promulgation or legislation;
  • (c) the laws in force before 1 July 1997, including the common law, rules of equity, customary law and statutory law, other than those not adopted as laws of the HKSAR by the NPC Standing Committee because they contravene the Basic Law (these laws apply irrespective of whether the conduct occurred prior to 1 July 2007); and
  • (d) laws enacted by the HKSAR’s legislature.

Only national laws relating to defence, foreign affairs or other matters outside the HKSAR’s autonomy may be added to Annex III to the Basic Law.

All legislation in force in the HKSAR is bilingual. The Chinese and English language versions are equally authentic. All legislation is published in a hard-copy loose-leaf edition and is also available at www.legislation.gov.hk. Preparations are now under way for the establishment of an electronic legislation database with legal status pursuant to the Legislation Publication Ordinance of 2011.
  1. See the full text of the Basic Law at http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/text/en/basiclawtext/