This Report provides an overview of the major events of the Judiciary in 2020. This also marks for me the last annual report of the Judiciary before my retirement as Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal.
The year of 2020 has been an extraordinary year for the Judiciary. The onset of the COVID-19 epidemic of course brought about unprecedented challenges but also presented opportunities. In light of the evolving public health situation, the Judiciary had been adjusting court business in various practicable ways, striking a balance between public health risks and administration of justice. The Judiciary adjourned all court proceedings (except urgent and essential hearings) for three months from 29 January to 3 May 2020. This came to be known as GAP (General Adjourned Period). Following GAP, the Judiciary then adopted appropriate social distancing measures (mainly for crowd control and compressing people flow) to ensure that courts can continue to carry on business as safely as circumstances permit. Where necessary, there was spacing out of court proceedings and hearings while opening hours of registries and accounts offices were adjusted. The Judiciary will remain flexible to conduct its business as efficiently as possible and as safely as circumstances require.
The epidemic provided the opportunity for the Judiciary to make greater use of technology in dealing with court business through alternative modes, alongside measures to make more flexible use of court premises and engagement of temporary judicial manpower. During the year, hearings took place by telephone, by video-conferencing or similar means with visual aid. A “browser-based” video conferencing facility option was also introduced in January 2021.
The year saw the passing of the Court Proceedings (Electronic Technology) Ordinance (Cap. 638) which provides for the electronic handling of court-related documents. This is a major step to implement the Judiciary's Information Technology Strategy Plan which will improve the efficiency of court operations in reducing paper use. Separately, the legislative amendments to the High Court Ordinance (Cap. 4), commencing in mid-January 2021, will facilitate the efficient handling of the increasing number of appeal cases in the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal, including especially judicial review applications in non-refoulement claims.
I would like to express heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Judiciary to Miss Emma LAU on her retirement from the post of the Judiciary Administrator in mid-July 2020 for her dedicated service during the past 15 years. We welcome Ms Esther LEUNG who succeeded Miss LAU to lead the Judiciary Administration.
I will be retiring on 11 January 2021 upon reaching the retirement age of 65. In March 2020, the Chief Executive accepted the recommendation of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission to appoint the Hon Mr Justice Andrew CHEUNG, Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal, as the next Chief Justice. Following the endorsement of the Legislative Council in June 2020, the appointment will take effect from 11 January 2021.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank members of the community, the Government and the Legislative Council for their invaluable support for the work of the Judiciary. I would also like to express my gratitude to my fellow judges and judicial officers, as well as staff in the Judiciary for their dedication and professionalism in the face of increasing challenges. I wish everyone the very best in the years to come.