THE DISTRICT COURT
The District Court has both criminal and civil jurisdiction.
1) Criminal Jurisdiction
The District Court deals with indictable offences transferred to it from the Magistrates’ Courts. Indictable offences are criminal offences triable on indictment before a Judge alone or with a jury. A District Court Judge sits alone without a jury.
The District Court may try all serious criminal cases except murder, manslaughter and rape. The maximum term of imprisonment it can impose is 7 years.
If the accused pleads guilty, the Court will hear any mitigation and pass sentence on the same day unless the Court orders various reports to be sought. If so, the Court will adjourn the case to another date for sentence. If the accused pleads not guilty, the Court will fix a date for trial if the case is ready.
An accused can choose to act in person or, much more commonly, to engage a lawyer. If the services of a legal practitioner in private practice are beyond his means, an accused may seek legal aid. Those accused who act in person need to prepare their case very carefully before trial. This includes the summoning of their witnesses, if any, and they may approach the District Court Registry to obtain the form for summoning witnesses.
The trial judge has the final decision as to whether a case is conducted in Chinese or English.
Flow Chart for Criminal Proceedings
An accused on bail or in custody can apply for legal aid. Those on bail may apply direct to the Director of Legal Aid, 25/F, Queensway Government Offices, 66 Queensway, Hong Kong (Tel: 2537 7677). Those in custody should contact the Welfare Officer in the institution where they are being held.
If an accused is not satisfied with the Court’s decision, an appeal may be made to the Court of Appeal of the High Court within 28 days from the date of sentence. For further information, please contact the District Court Registry.
Such an appeal may be against conviction, or sentence, or against both conviction and sentence. While an appeal against sentence may result in the sentence being reduced, it should be noted that the Court of Appeal of the High Court may also increase the sentence.
The Court of Appeal may dismiss or allow the appeal. If either party is still not satisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal, an application for leave to appeal to the Court of Final Appeal may be lodged.
2) Civil Jurisdiction
The most common types of civil action that the District Court deals with are:
- tort (including personal injuries claims)
- recovery of land or premises
- claims in equity such as administration of estate of a deceased person, trust, mortgage, specific performance, maintenance of infant, dissolution of partnership, relief against fraud or mistake
- employees’ compensation cases (there is no limit on the amount claimed)
- sex discrimination, disability, race and family status discrimination cases
- matrimonial cases including divorce, maintenance, custody and adoption of children (the Court which handles these types of cases is also known as the Family Court)
Claims for Contract, Quasi-contract and Tort
For a contract, quasi-contract or tort claim to be handled by the District Court rather than the Court of First Instance of the High Court, it must be for an amount over $75,000 but not more than $3 million. Even where your claim does not exceed $3 million, if the defendant counterclaims for over $3 million, the claim and the counterclaim or just the counterclaim may be transferred to the Court of First Instance of the High Court. For good reasons, the District Court may continue to handle the claim when the counterclaim exceeds $3 million, but a report has to be made to the High Court and the High Court may transfer the case.
Note that if your claim exceeds $3 million, you may still start the action in the District Court provided you abandon the excess. [Equally, if the counterclaim exceeds $3 million, you may waive the excess.] This can be a very practical strategy when the excess is small, since the litigation cost at the Court of First Instance is usually higher than that of the District Court.
Claims for Possession of Land or Premises
The District Court deals with buildings or premises the annual rent or rateable value or the annual value of which does not exceed $320,000. However, in most tenancy cases where possession of the premises is claimed when the terms of the tenancy has expired, or when the tenant is in breach of the terms of the tenancy, application for possession may also be issued in the Lands Tribunal.
Claims under Equity Jurisdiction
- where proceedings do not relate to land, the maximum value involved shall not exceed $3 million
- where proceedings do relate to land, the maximum value involved shall not exceed $7 million; and further, for proceedings for the recovery of land or relating to the title to land, the rateable value of the land must not exceed $320,000
Claims for Arrears of Rent Only
If you merely want to recover arrears of rent and not the possession of the premises, there is a special procedure known as “distress”, whereby the Court makes an order directing the goods of the tenant to be seized by the bailiff. If the tenant still fails to pay the rent, the goods will be sold and the proceeds applied towards the outstanding rent.
The application form and pro forma affidavit can be obtained from the District Court Registry. You can complete the preliminary procedure by returning the completed forms to the District Court Registry. The Court will inform you when execution has been levied.
However, if you are claiming more than 12 months’ rent, you cannot use the distress procedure. Use instead the normal procedure for suing for breach of contract.
How to Start a Civil Action?
There are three ways for you to start a civil action:
- engage a lawyer
- seek legal aid (for details please refer to the "How to apply for legal aid in civil cases" pamphlet which is available at all courts, the Legal Aid Department and Public Enquiry Service Centres of District Offices)
- do it yourself
Note that certain types of individual, e.g. infants, mentally disabled persons and the estate of a deceased person, can commence an action only by an appropriate representative. A corporation may either be represented by a solicitor or by one of its directors by filing an affidavit stating that he has been duly authorized by the board of directors and exhibiting either original or certified board’s resolution.
Mode of starting an action
Civil actions in the District Court can be commenced in one of the following modes:
- Writ of Summons
- Originating Summons
The relevant forms can be found in Appendix A of the Rules of the District Court, Chapter 336 sub. leg. H of the Laws of Hong Kong.
Since the most common mode for commencing an action is the Writ of Summons, this is outlined below.
Writ of Summons
A Writ of Summons (Form No.1) must be used to commence an action based on contract, quasi-contract, tort (other than trespass to land), 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 generally for all actions which would involve a substantial dispute of facts.
If the only claim that you are making is for payment of money, a Form 16 (for a liquidated claim, e.g. a debt) or Form 16C (for an unliquidated claim, e.g. damages for breach of contract or personal injuries) for admission of your claim should accompany your Writ.
Filing of Writ of Summons
A Writ of Summons (Form No.1) and the accompanying acknowledgement of service (Form No.14) can be obtained at the District Court Registry. Fill out Form No. 1, setting out an endorsement of claim, e.g. a concise statement of the nature of your claim, or a statement of claim setting out in details the legal basis of your claim together with the facts you are relying on and the relief and remedy you are claiming. Forms can be completed in Chinese or English. (If you only attach an endorsement of claim, a statement of claim has to be filed and served on the defendant within 14 days after the defendant has acknowledged service of the Writ.) You have to verify the statement of claim with a statement of truth in accordance with Order 41A of the Rules of the District Court.
When you file the Writ, you will be asked to pay a filing fee at the Accounts Office of the District Court. You will then return the completed forms to the Registry. One copy of the form will be returned to you for reference.
It is your responsibility to serve the Writ, acknowledgement of service and Form 16 or Form 16C (if applicable) on the defendant. If the defendant is in Hong Kong, this can be done by personal service, by registered post, or by inserting the documents through the letter box of the defendant at his usual or last known address (or, in the case of a corporation, on the registered address). In an action for recovery of possession of land, you must also post up a copy of the Writ at the entrance of the premises in question. (Please see the "Bailiff Section" booklet regarding action for recovery of possession of land.)
Filing of Acknowledgement of Service by the Defendant
When the defendant is served with the Writ (Form No. 1) and the acknowledgement of service (Form 14), he or she must fill in Form No. 14 to indicate if he or she wishes to defend the action and file it with the Registry within 14 days after service of the Writ (including the day of service).
Filing and serving of defence by the Defendant
Any defence must be filed with the court and served on you within 28 days after the time limit for acknowledgement of service expires. The defendant must explain in his defence why the defendant is disputing your claim and may include a counterclaim against you. The defence must be verified by a statement of truth in accordance with Order 41A of the Rules of the District Court.
What happens if the defendant does not file an acknowledgement of service or a defence?
If the defendant does not file Form No. 14 or a defence within time, you can apply to the Court for judgment on your claim. In such a case, a full trial is not required.
You may enter judgment for the amount claimed and costs, if the claim is for debt or for liquidated damages, e.g. where the amount of the claim is fixed and ascertainable, for example, action on a cheque.
Interlocutory judgment on liability may be entered instead if you are claiming for unliquidated damages, for example, for loss of profits or damages for injury to person or property. In this case you will have to ask a master or a judge to assess the amount of damages you are entitled to.
Under Order 13A of the Rules of District Court, if you are only claiming for the payment of money, the defendant may make an admission and/or propose terms of payment by filing in Court a Form 16 or Form 16C as may be appropriate and serve a copy of the same on you. You may file a request for judgment or reply (see Form 16B, 16D and 16E) to indicate if you accept the offer and the terms of payment as proposed by the defendant. If you accept the offer but do not agree to the terms of payment, you may request a master to determine the terms of payment.
However, if you do not file a request for judgment or reply within 14 days after a copy of the admission form served on you, the claim is stayed until you file the request or reply.
What happens if the defendant files a defence / counterclaim?
As plaintiff, you may file with the court and serve on the defendant a reply to any defence filed by him within 28 days after service on you of the defence, and set out additional facts in answer to it.
If the defendant files a counterclaim, you will have to file and serve a defence to it within 28 days after the service on you of the counterclaim if you wish to dispute it. The defendant can enter judgment in default of defence to the counterclaim if you fail to do so within time. As far as the counterclaim is concerned, you have become a defendant.
There are no prescribed forms for a reply or defence to a counterclaim, but you should combine the reply and any defence to the counterclaim in one single document. The document has to be verified by a statement of truth in accordance with Order 41A of the Rules of the District Court.
Discovery of Documents
The pleadings stage will then be complete. Next comes “discovery”, when each side must disclose to the other the documents he possesses that relate to the case. After disclosing the documents in the form of a list (Forms No. 26 and 27), both sides must allow the other side to inspect the actual documents.
Each party shall file and serve a timetabling questionnaire within 28 days after the pleadings stage is complete. You should try to agree with the other party (parties) on what directions to seek to prepare a case for trial.
Case Management Summons
As plaintiff, you must, within 14 days after receiving the timetabling questionnaire from the other party (parties) or within 14 days upon expiry of the period for filing and serving a timetabling questionnaire, 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 and/or the trial. You should comply with the directions as you may not be able to get extensions of time without sufficient grounds. In addition, you should attend court on the milestone dates, otherwise your claim will be struck out.
Listing for Trial
After the Court has given directions for setting down, you should file with the Court an application to set a case down for trial and a notification of setting down. In so doing, you have to pay a prescribed fee. Besides, a bundle of documents has to be lodged.
For cases in the Fixture List both parties should attend before the Listing Officer on the date scheduled for date fixing. The Listing Officer will then list the case for trial in accordance with the directions given by the Master. After date fixing, the pre-trial procedure is then complete and parties should bear the trial date in mind and wait for trial.
For cases set down in the Running List, they will be placed initially on the Pending List and then Warned List. Once a case has been set down the title of the action and its action number will appear at the bottom of the Pending List if it is expected to be tried during the next succeeding month. The cases will be tried by judges who are found available to try them one after another generally in accordance with the order set out in the Pending List. Parties have to check the Pending List on the last day of each month to see if their case has been listed on it. Once the case is listed on the Pending List, they have to check the Warned List every Wednesday. This is because every Wednesday a number of cases from the Pending List will be warned that they will likely to be called and tried in the next week and they are put in a separate list called the Warned List. Once a case is listed on the Warned List, parties are required to check the Warned List every day whether their case is fixed to be tried the next day.
The Pending List is posted on the Notice Board on the ground floor of the District Court next to the daily cause list and on the 6th floor of the District Court in the Notice Board outside the Registry. The Warned List is posted on the Daily Notice Boards on the ground floor and the 6th floor of the District Court. The Warned List is also accessible at the Judiciary Website. At 2:30 p.m. in every afternoon the Listing Officer will mark on the Warned List those cases that will be tried the next day specifying the venue and date of trial. It is the responsibility of the parties to ensure that they will attend the trial on time.
If either party intends to call witnesses, their attendance at the trial must be secured well in advance. It may be necessary to issue a writ of subpoena, i.e. a witness summons. (See Form No. 28 or 29 in Appendix A of the Rules of the District Court, Chapter 336 sub. leg. H of the Laws of Hong Kong.)
The appropriate office for issuing such a writ is the Registry of the District Court. Every writ of subpoena should be accompanied by a deposit to cover the witness’s reasonable expenses.
Both parties should attend Court punctually on the trial date, bringing along relevant original documents and photocopies for the judge and the other party if necessary. Your witnesses should come with you. Check the notice board on the ground floor lobby or the Enquiry Counter on the 6th floor to find out which court is hearing your case.
At the trial, the Court will hear the evidence of witnesses and the submissions of the parties.
The Court may adjourn the case to another date if further information and / or evidence are needed. The Court may deliver judgment at the end of the trial or deliver / hand down the judgment at a later date.
If the parties are willing to settle, the Court will make the settlement an order of the Court.
If you and the other party settle the case amicably before the trial, you may file a notice to discontinue the case, or file a consent application setting out your agreement. You may also apply to the Court at the trial to have the terms of settlement made an order of the Court.
Generally speaking, if you are not satisfied with the decision of a Master, you may appeal against it to a Judge in chambers. You must do so by way of a notice within 14 days after the decision. For certain matters, e.g. judgments or orders made by a Master after the examination of a judgment debtor or judgments made summarily in actions arising out of a hire-purchase agreement, or assessment of damages, the appeal should be made to the Court of Appeal of the High Court. For such cases, the application for leave to appeal must be made to the Master within 28 days from the date of the judgment or order. If the Master refuses to grant leave, you may apply to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal within 14 days from the date of such refusal.
If you are not satisfied with the decision of a Judge, you may apply to the Judge within 28 days for non-interlocutory judgments or orders, or within 14 days for interlocutory judgments or orders from the date of the decision for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal of the High Court.
If the Judge refuses to grant leave, you may apply within 14 days from the date of refusal to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal. The Court of Appeal may grant leave on such terms as to costs, security, etc. as it thinks fit.
Execution of Judgment
If, after you have obtained a judgment, the judgment debtor fails to obey the order, you may apply to the Court for a Writ of Fieri Facias to enforce the judgment. The Bailiff will “levy execution” to recover the judgment debt by seizing goods and chattels of the judgment debtor to cover the money owed to you or to recover possession of property for you.
Contact the District Court Registry for information if you want to apply for the Bailiff’s service. You may also refer to the "Bailiff Section" booklet available from the District Court Registry or the Bailiff Office.
There are other modes of execution and we could not include all the details. Please read the Rules of the District Court or seek legal advice.
- Waiting time in the District Court:
- Criminal cases: within 100 days from the date of first appearance of the accused to trial
- Civil cases:
Fixture list: within 120 days from the date of listing to hearing
Running list: within 30 days from not-to-be-warned date to hearing
- Wherever possible, the Judiciary will reply at once to correspondence from members of the public. In any case, we will give you an interim reply within 10 days and a full response within 30 days of receiving a letter. If a full response cannot be given within 30 days, we will give you a further interim reply with a brief explanation.
- If you wish to enquire about the rules and practice of the District Court, you may contact the Resource Centre for Unrepresented Litigants at the High Court Building, 38 Queensway, Hong Kong. (A hot line to the Centre is set up at the Registry of the District Court).
- We welcome all comments and suggestions for improving our services. Please send them to the Judiciary Administrator at the High Court Building, 38 Queensway, Hong Kong.
Registry and Accounts Office
|Monday to Friday
||8:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
||2:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
(Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays)
Before You Consider Legal Proceedings
- Legal proceedings should always be thought of as a last resort. It is advisable to make every effort to settle a dispute by agreement.
- Even where you cannot reach agreement with the other party, it may still not be worth your while to begin an action. Always consider the unavoidable element of hostility; the chance that your action may not succeed; the time consumed; the inevitable mental and physical strain; the legal costs; and whether the defendant has sufficient assets to pay you if you do win the case.
- You should also note that in some cases, legal procedures are considerably more complicated than the basic procedures described in this general reference booklet. It is thus always advisable to seek the help of a legal practitioner, whether through legal aid or otherwise.
||Room LG105, Lower Ground Floor 1, High Court Building, 38, Queensway, Hong Kong
||E-mails should be used solely for making general enquiries and should not contain personal data or information pertaining to a particular court case.
To provide information and assistance on court rules and procedures to unrepresented litigants, who are parties to, or about to commence, civil proceedings in the High Court or the District Court except those relating to matrimonial, lands, employees' compensation and probate matters.
Facilities and Services
- Reception and general enquiries counter
- Videos on court procedures
- Brochures on civil proceedings in the High Court and the District Court
- Frequently asked questions
- Sample court forms
- Computer facilities
- Dedicated webpage
- Oaths and declaration services
|Monday to Friday
||8:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
||2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays
The staff of the Resource Centre are happy to assist you with enquiries on court procedures, but they will not provide any legal advice or offer any comment or assistance on the conduct of specific court cases and proceedings.
Assistance on matrimonial, lands and employees’ compensation matters and probate applications will continue to be provided by the respective registries.