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Court Services & Facilities

Magistrates' Courts pdf version


What charges do the Magistrates' Courts hear?

Magistrates' Courts hear a wide range of offences, both summary and indictable. The more serious indictable offences are referred to either the District Court or the Court of First Instance. All matters appear initially in the Magistrates’ Courts. Most are disposed of at that level.

The normal maximum sentence is 2 years' imprisonment and a fine of $100,000. However the court may impose sentences of up to 3 years’ imprisonment where there are two or more indictable offences being dealt with at the same time. Indeed under some Ordinances a single offence may carry 3 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $5 million.

The Juvenile Court in the Magistrates’ Courts hears charges against children or young persons under the age of 16, except where the charge is one of homicide. It may also make care or protection orders in respect of children or juveniles.

Minor offences such as hawking, traffic contraventions and littering are heard in the Magistrates' Courts by Special Magistrates. Special Magistrates cannot impose a prison sentence and the normal maximum fine is $50,000 except where a greater sum is specifically provided for in any ordinance relating to the offence.

How are proceedings conducted?

All criminal proceedings commence in the Magistrates’ Courts. If the accused pleads guilty, he / she will normally be sentenced on the same day. However if the court wishes to consider reports as to suitability for Probation, Community Service, Detention Centre, Rehabilitation Centre, Training Centre or Drugs Addiction Treatment Centre or a Hospital Order, the case will be adjourned for reports.

If the accused pleads “not guilty”, a date will be fixed for trial.

An accused may act in person, instruct a lawyer to represent him or her, or apply to the Duty Lawyer Service. If he / she chooses to act in person, it is important to prepare the case carefully in all particulars, including the summoning of witnesses. On request, the Case Clerk will advise on the procedures for summoning witnesses.

Indictable offences commenced in the Magistrates’ Courts will be transferred to the higher level courts where:

  • The Secretary for Justice applies to have a case transferred to the District Court.
  • The Secretary for Justice applies to have a case committed to the Court of First Instance of the High Court. When the accused requests it, the Magistrate will conduct a preliminary inquiry. If the Magistrate considers that there is sufficient evidence to put the accused on trial before a jury, the accused will be committed to the Court of First Instance for trial. If the accused does not request a preliminary inquiry, he / she will be committed to the Court of First Instance for trial immediately or for sentence if he / she pleads “guilty”.
  • The Secretary for Justice applies to have a case transferred to the Court of First Instance under the Complex Commercial Crimes Ordinance.

Trials in the Magistrates’ Courts may be conducted in either Chinese or English.

Witnesses, including children, mentally incapacitated persons, witnesses in fear and complainants regarding specified sexual offence may give evidence through live television link.

What is the Duty Lawyer Service?

The Duty Lawyer Service provides legal representation to those charged with nearly all offences in the Magistrates' Courts, including the Juvenile Courts. It is jointly run by the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Bar Association.

Any accused who needs the service should go to the Court Liaison Office of the Magistrates’ Courts concerned. However, the service will contact directly those accused in custody.

Applicants for the service must pass the merit and the means tests. After passing the means test, a fixed handling charge set by the Duty Lawyer Service must be paid before the Duty Lawyer Service takes up a case. No further payments are required. However, this fee can be waived if the accused has genuine hardship. The Administrator of the Duty Lawyer Service also has the discretion to waive the means test of an accused if he/ she is of the view that it is in the interest of justice to do so.

[1] handling charge is set by the Duty Lawyer Service and is subject to change.

How to apply for Review or Appeal?

If an accused is not satisfied with the determination of a Magistrate, he / she may apply to the Magistrate within 14 days after the determination to review the decision. If the Magistrate dismisses the review, the accused may appeal to the Court of First Instance. The notice of appeal should be lodged within 14 days after the dismissal of the review by the Magistrate.

The accused may also appeal to the Court of First Instance without first seeking a review. The notice of appeal must be lodged with the First Clerk of the Magistrates’ Courts where the trial was conducted within 14 days after determination.

Performance Pledge

  • Cases will be dealt with within 60 days after the accused is asked how he / she pleads. For cases involving an accused in custody, the Magistrate will expedite the proceedings, normally dealing with the case within 45 days after taking the plea.
  • Wherever possible, the Judiciary will reply at once to correspondence from members of the public. In any case, we will give 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.
  • We welcome all comments and suggestions for improving our services. Please send them to the Judiciary Administrator at the High Court, 38 Queensway, Hong Kong.

How to contact us?

No Legal Advice

In order to maintain the impartial role of the Judiciary, our staff will not provide any legal advice or offer any comment on the conduct or merits of specific court cases and proceedings. However, they are happy to assist you with enquiries on court procedures. If you are in need of legal advice, please approach your solicitors or seek suitable legal advisory service.

Business Hours

General Offices and Accounts Offices

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)

What are the arrangements of the Magistrates’ Courts in case of bad weather?

Please refer to Typhoon and Rainstorm Warning Arrangements in the Judiciary website or radio/ television announcements of the same.