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A step closer to paperless court proceedings - Court Proceedings (Electronic Technology) Bill

  • Hong Kong
  • Litigation and dispute management

07-01-2020

On 27 December 2019, the long-awaited Court Proceedings (Electronic Technology) Bill (the “Bill”) was published in the Gazette. The Bill will provide for the electronic handling of court-related documents. While the Judiciary encourages court users to transact court businesses electronically, it emphasizes that the use of electronic technology would be on voluntary basis.

Main Proposals

The main changes proposed in the Bill are as follows:-

  1. Documents in Electronic Form

    Under the Bill, it is proposed that court users may file and send documents (including original or certified documents) electronically to the Court and the Court may create, issue or send documents in electronic form to court users, insofar as the documents are (i) submitted to the integrated court case management system (“iCMS”) designated by the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal (the “Chief Justice”) and (ii) can reasonably be expected to be accessible and usable for subsequent reference.

    To do so, court users will have to first register with the Judiciary Administration before gaining access to and using the iCMS.

  2. Inter-Party Electronic Service of Documents

    In addition, the Bill enables parties to serve documents electronically to the other party(ies) if there is a mutual consent to serve and accept documents by electronic means. To allow flexibility, it is further proposed that parties may agree on the most appropriate electronic platform to serve the documents.

  3. Electronic Authentication of Documents

    For court-related documents that are required or permitted to be signed, sealed or certified under any statutes, practice directions or court directions, the Bill allows the Court and court users to authenticate the documents by signatures other than traditional manual signatures, such as electronic signatures or digital signatures.

  4. Legal status of print-outs/ copies of printouts of documents

    The Bill also provides that if a document is issued or sent by the Court in electronic form, its printout or a copy of its printout has the same legal effect as the original of the document or a copy of it (depending on the case requires). This can be used to satisfy the legal requirement under any Ordinance, subsidiary legislations, practice directions and court directions.

For the detailed court procedures, administrative instructions and exceptions for the use of electronic technology under the Bill, they will be specified in the e-practice directions and e-rules to be issued by the Chief Justice.

Implementation

The iCMS will be implemented in phases and first be launched in District Court and the Summons Courts of the Magistrates’ Courts. It is expected to extend to the Court of Final Appeal, the High Court, the remaining part of Magistrates’ Court and the Small Claim Tribunal in the second stage, and to remaining courts and tribunal thereafter.

Legislative Timeline

According to the Legislative Council Brief of the Bill, the Bill will be introduced into the Legislative Council on 8 January 2020.

For years, the Hong Kong courts have been behind other major jurisdictions in terms of the use of information technology in court proceedings. The introduction of the Bill is a long-awaited step forward and should be welcomed.

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