Welcome Remarks

This Report provides an overview of the major events of the Judiciary in 2022.

The year of 2022 is the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (“HKSAR”). Under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement, the Basic Law provides that the HKSAR has been authorised by the National People’s Congress to exercise a high degree of autonomy and shall be vested with independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The Judiciary will continue to steadfastly uphold its commitment to the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong.

The year of 2022 has also been a challenging yet fruitful year for the Judiciary.

The quality and quantity of judges and judicial officers is a crucial key to the effective and efficient administration of justice. As mentioned in my speech at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year in January this year, the Hong Kong community is blessed with dedicated judges at all levels of court who are committed day in, day out to the practical administration of the law. Taking into account the 15 judicial appointments made in 2022, there are 164 substantive judges and judicial officers serving at different levels of court in the Judiciary. Moreover, on average, around 40 deputy judges and judicial officers, appointed from the legal profession, sit in different levels of court at any one time.

Following the implementation of an enhanced mechanism with a two-tier structure for handling complaints against judicial conduct in August 2021, the Judiciary reviewed and revised the Guide to Judicial Conduct (first published in 2004) in May 2022. The revisions have taken into account the impact of advancement in information technology, the use of social media, and the increasingly complex conditions in which judging takes place.

To enhance judicial education and professional qualities, the Judiciary continued to organise various new and additional judicial training and exchange programmes with the Mainland and overseas jurisdictions for judges and judicial officers in 2022.

In September 2022, we organised the third in a series of seminars, which started in 2021, on Chinese law and the legal and judicial system in the Mainland. We are planning to resume our regular exchange programmes with courts in the Mainland in 2023 as soon as the public health situation permits.

In November 2022, we played host to the 18th Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific involving 24 Chief Justices and eight representatives of Chief Justices from jurisdictions throughout Asia and the Pacific region via video conferencing. Our judges and judicial officers participated in person or online in 12 other judicial conferences, seminars and exchange activities in 2022.

On the operational front, the year of 2022 was taxing for the Judiciary, particularly with the onset of the 5th wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, despite the resulting reductions in court capacity (including a one-month general adjournment of proceedings), we managed to dispose of an overall caseload which was comparable to that in 2019 before the pandemic . This would not have been possible without the concerted efforts of all judges and judicial officers as well as our dedicated support staff through the maximum use of available manpower and facilities.

In 2022, we continued to accord priority to coping with the unprecedented challenges from the upsurge of over 2 300 cases relating to the social events in 2019 as well as national security. While new cases continued to be brought to court in 2022, around 85% of the cases have been concluded, through the best possible deployment of judicial manpower and facilities across different levels of court. At present, our main focus is on handling the outstanding criminal cases totaling around 180 at the District Court, many of which involve long trials. Meanwhile, we have been expediting the processing of thousands of cases relating to non-refoulement claims at the High Court through multi-pronged measures.

To cater for our short- to longer-term operational needs, we have been constructing new and additional courtrooms as well as supporting facilities in the High Court Building, the Wanchai Tower and the Revenue Tower, which are expected to be commissioned from next year onwards.

In May 2022, we secured funding approval from the Legislative Council for constructing a new District Court Building at Caroline Hill Road for the reprovisioning and co-location of the District Court, the Family Court and the Lands Tribunal. The construction works are underway and expected to be completed in 2026 for commissioning in 2027.

The Judiciary has been making continual efforts in harnessing technology to enhance the efficiency of court operations. In May 2022, a range of electronic services, including e-filing, were rolled out through the integrated Court Case Management System (“iCMS”) in the District Court, starting with civil proceedings. In December 2022, we extended e-filing to summons cases in the Magistrates’ Courts and are planning to roll out the same to other courts incrementally from 2024. We have also been making greater use of other technology initiatives, including e-bundles at court hearings, remote hearings, an e-appointment system as well as a digital evidence and exhibits handling system, as and when appropriate.

As regards legislative proposals, we have been working on the draft Courts (Remote Hearing) Bill to enable both the civil and criminal courts to conduct remote hearings as they see fit, having regard to all relevant circumstances, as well as the dual requirements of open justice and fairness. We launched a three-month public consultation on the draft Bill in June 2022 and aim to introduce the Bill into the Legislative Council in 2023.

We have also been working on the introduction of the Family Procedure Bill into the Legislative Council in 2023, having regard to stakeholders’ views from public consultation in 2022. The Bill seeks to provide a clear legal basis for a full consolidated set of self-contained and streamlined procedural rules with a view to modernising the family justice system in Hong Kong.

The Judiciary has been working closely with the Government on mutual legal assistance arrangements with the Mainland. In February 2022, we put in place measures to implement an agreement on reciprocal recognition and enforcement of civil judgments in matrimonial and family cases. We are working on implementation arrangements for another similar agreement covering judgments in civil and commercial matters, following the passage of the enabling legislation in October 2022.

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 the staff in the Judiciary for their dedication and commitment.

Andrew CHEUNG
Chief Justice