China: The Legal System and Civil Procedure for Commercial Dispute Resolution in Hong Kong (Part I of II)

Last Updated: 12 June 2012
Article by Renee Gu

I. Introduction

Commercial disputes are inevitable in the commercial world. It is often crucial to find the most cost-effective and expeditious way to resolve the dispute.

Hong Kong is Asia's most international city with a vibrant and cosmopolitan community where East meets West, the key attributes of which include a level playing field for entrepreneurs of all nationalities; an educated and skilled workforce; an unrivalled location as the gateway to China; the rule of law being upheld and respected by a clean government; low taxes funding world class infrastructure; a free flow of information; and international lifestylei.

The mature and reliable legal infrastructure in Hong Kong includes a world-class regulatory framework, corporate governance, investor protection, corruption-free business environment and familiar commercial legal principles. It is one of the main reasons for choosing Hong Kong as a stepping stone into China and the rest of the Asia Pacific region. It is well recognized that Hong Kong is an ideal venue for commercial dispute resolutions.

Let us now look at the legal system and civil procedures for commercial dispute resolution in Hong Kong.

II. Hierarchy of Courts

In Hong Kong, the Court of Final Appeal, Court of Appeal, the Court of First Instance and the District Court have jurisdiction over civil matters. The Court of Final Appeal is the highest appellate court in Hong Kong. The Court of Appeal hears appeal on all matters, civil and criminal, from the Court of First Instance and the District Court.

The civil jurisdiction of the Court of First Instance is unlimited. The District Court has civil jurisdiction to hear monetary claims over $50,000, but not more than $1,000,000.

III. The rule of law in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a common law jurisdiction. The common law is essentially judge-made law and is to be found primarily in the judgments of the courts of Hong Kong and other common law jurisdictions.

Other than the common law, statutes also govern civil proceedings in Hong Kong. The vast majority of statute law in force in Hong Kong is made locally and contained in the Laws of Hong Kong.

IV. Adversarial System of Justice

Hong Kong has adopted the common law adversarial system of procedure which is distinct from the inquisitorial system used in civil law jurisdictions. Under an adversarial system, investigation is left to the discretion and initiatives of the parties to the claim and the judge merely takes a passive role listening to evidence from the two sides, the plaintiff and the defendant respectively[ii].

It is generally recognized that Hong Kong is one of the best commercial dispute resolution centers as Hong Kong has a well-developed and reliable legal system with an experienced judiciary[iii] with a comprehensive and sophisticated set of procedural rules to regulate the civil process. After looking at the basic features of the legal system in Hong Kong, we are now going to highlight some key aspects of the civil procedures in Hong Kong.

V. Proceedings of Civil Action

VI. Main Features of the Civil Procedures

A. Filing of writ of summons and statement of claim

A writ of summons and statement of claim is used to commence an action based in contract, quasi-contract, tort, fraud, breach of duty where the damages consist of or include damages for death of or personal injuries to any person, or in respect of damage to property and for all actions involving a substantial dispute of facts.

B. Filing and serving of defence by the defendant and filling and serving of reply by the plaintiff

If the defendant files a defence/counterclaim within 28 days upon receipt of the statement of claim, the plaintiff will have 14 days to file and serve a reply.

C. Discovery

Next, each side must disclose to the other the documents he possesses that relate to the case. This stage is known as "discovery". The purpose of discovery is to compel each party to a dispute to disclose to the other party all of the documents that it has or had in its possession, power, custody or control that relate to any of the matters at issue in the litigation and to allow inspection of those documents. All documents disclosed on discovery are subject to an implied undertaking that they will be used by the parties only for the purposes of the litigation concerned.

As a general rule, discovery of documents cannot be obtained against a stranger; nor is it proper to join a stranger as a party merely for the purpose of discovery. If documents or information in the possession of a stranger are required, it is ordinarily necessary to call him as a witness at the hearing. However, the court has the power to order a person who is not a party to the proceedings and who appears to the court as likely to have in his possession, custody or power relevant documents to disclose and produce those documents.

D. Case management

A plaintiff must issue a case management summons for the court to give directions relating to the management of the case.

The court will fix a timetable for the steps to be taken and may fix a milestone date for a case management conference, pre-trial review, or the trial.

E. Trial Hearing

Both parties should attend before the court on the trial date. At the trial, the court will hear the evidence of witnesses and the submissions of the parties.

VII. Enforcement of Judgments

Set out below are the common ways to enforce a judgment rendered by the Hong Kong courts.

A. Writ of fieri facias

The court bailiff carries out the execution by seizing the judgment debtor's goods and chattels up to a value that includes the judgment debt plus interest, and the cost of execution. The property is then sold, usually by public auction.

B. Garnishee proceedings

When a third party owes money to a judgment debtor, the judgment creditor may attach that money or debt by obtaining a garnishee order absolute, which orders the third party to pay the money to the judgment creditor instead.

C. Charging orders

If the judgment debtor does not appear to have any liquidated funds available to satisfy the judgment, but owns a property, then the judgment creditor may apply for a charging order over the property, which will give security that is second only to any prior mortgage or other charge entered.

D. Winding-up and bankruptcy proceedings

Winding-up and bankruptcy proceedings may be commenced against the judgment debtor if it appears that the judgment debtor is insolvent and is unable to pay the judgment debt.


ii A Guide to Civil Procedure in Hong Kong, p.3
iii Camille Cameron & Elsa Kelly, Principles and Practice of Civil Procedure in Hong Kong, Sweet & Maxwell(Second Edition), 2009, p. 1

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.