Experts: HK continues to thrive as leading international legal hub

By Oasis Hu
Updated: May 12, 2023

Hong Kong is and will continue to be a leading center for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region considering its many advantages, including a well-respected judiciary, attractive arbitration system, strong support from the central government, and advanced law technology, according to legal experts in the city.

Hong Kong benefits from the "one country, two systems" principle and is the only common law jurisdiction in China, which means it has the same legal traditions as major Western economies, said James Kwan, a partner at Hogan Lovells' international arbitration group based in Hong Kong and a lawyer with rich experience in representing international and Chinese mainland clients.

The Basic Law guarantees judicial independence and the rule of law, making Hong Kong very attractive as a global dispute resolution center, added Kwan.

Hong Kong's Arbitration Ordinance is based on the Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, which reflects international best practices. Arbitral awards made in Hong Kong are widely recognized and can be enforced globally in over 170 contracting parties from various jurisdictions under the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. This instills great confidence in the enforcement of arbitral awards made in Hong Kong, as they must be submitted to the courts in the party's jurisdiction.

The city's well-established bilingual legal system also makes it an ideal hub for resolving international disputes involving foreign parties.

Mariel Dimsey, the secretary-general of Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), a dispute resolution organization based in Hong Kong with one of the largest caseloads in Asia, emphasized that Hong Kong has a unique advantage in arbitrations involving parties with a stake in the Chinese mainland.

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Under the Basic Law, the Court of Final Appeal exercises the power of final adjudication of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region independently and free from any interference. The Basic Law's guarantee of judicial independence and the rule of law has made Hong Kong a renowned international dispute resolution center. [Photo provided by Information Services Department]

Since its return to the nation, Hong Kong has reached nine arrangements for mutual legal assistance with the Supreme People's Court. For example, the "Arrangement Concerning Mutual Assistance in Court-ordered Interim Measures in Aid of Arbitral Proceedings by the Courts of the Mainland and of the HKSAR" came into effect on October 1, 2019. Interim measures can protect a claimant's rights before their case is finally determined. For instance, at the request of an applicant in an arbitration administered by eligible Hong Kong dispute resolution organizations, the mainland court can order a respondent's assets to be frozen to prevent them from being transferred, concealed, damaged or destroyed.

"This is unique to Hong Kong and is not available to any other jurisdiction outside China," Dimsey said.

Under the Arrangement, HKIAC processed 26 applications made to 14 different mainland courts seeking to preserve assets or conduct worth 7.6 billion yuan ($1.11 billion) in 2022. The mainland courts subsequently issued orders to preserve 1.26 billion yuan ($185.8 million) worth of assets for these cases.

Another unique advantage of Hong Kong is the city's remarkable legal technology developments. Hong Kong has a strong focus on using law tech to resolve disputes, according to Emmanuelle Ta Pui-ki, chief executive officer of eBRAM International Online Dispute Resolution Centre Limited (eBRAM), a not-for-profit Hong Kong-based online dispute resolution institution and LawTech company applying technology to facilitate the dispute resolution process.

Believing that "technology is the future and the way forward", Ta joined eBRAM in September 2021 after working at the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and Hong Kong for nearly 15 years.

The COVID-19 outbreak put worldwide dispute resolution cases on hold. However, the one-stop Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform developed by eBRAM enabled dispute resolution cases in Hong Kong to proceed smoothly.

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At one of the sessions (Nov 9) during Hong Kong Legal Week 2022, legal experts share how the Online Dispute Resolution platform provides a cost-effective and efficient solution to cross-border disputes and therefore promotes trade and investment. [Photo provided by Information Services Department]

Through the ODR platform, business owners can resolve their disputes entirely online. After a claim is submitted via the platform, users can nominate, or eBRAM will appoint a neutral arbitrator or mediator to conduct the proceeding. The disputing parties can upload all relevant documents to the platform before a remote arbitral hearing or mediation session is held, and get an arbitral award or settlement agreement in a process that saves time and money.

The platform is equipped with advanced technology to offer three dispute resolution approaches of e-negotiation, e-mediation and e-arbitration. An online calculator can estimate arbitration costs based on the amount in dispute, while a video-conferencing system and AI machine translation enable users from different parts of the world to communicate in real time. The platform also provides e-signature service, multifactor identity authentication, and secure data storage equipped with blockchain technology to ensure cybersecurity, data privacy, and tamper-resistance.

During the pandemic, when worldwide dispute resolution cases were affected by the fact that disputants, mediators and arbitrators could not meet physically, the ODR platform allowed parties in Hong Kong to settle their disputes under a special COVID-19 ODR scheme that featured an expedited six week process at low cost. The platform is especially welcomed by micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) as it streamlines the dispute resolution process.

The concerned platform won a Bronze Medal at the Special Edition 2022: Invention Geneva Evaluation Days, one of the world's most prestigious exhibition to promote inventions.

Also in May 2022, eBRAM launched its APEC ODR Platform under the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ODR Framework to assist MSMEs in resolving cross-border business-related disputes, making it the first and only ODR provider from Hong Kong listed by APEC.

"The use of technology has not only facilitated the day-to-day legal practice but also strengthened Hong Kong's position as the leading center for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific Region," Ta said, adding that she would continue leveraging advanced technology to enhance Hong Kong's leading role. 

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