Pandemic forces Hong Kong judiciary to go paperless

It’s time for Hong Kong’s judiciary to go digital, some lawyers say, but old habits die hard.

Photo: The High Court Drop off area courtesy of Wpcpey. License.

Hong Kong has been a global laggard in reducing the amount of paper used in its court systems, even as many others have moved towards a paperless format. Legislation to empower the courts’ digital transformation has languished in LegCo. But the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced local courts to move ahead of the legislature to adopt new technology and processes.

On 27 December last year, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council pushed forward a bill that will enable the transition to electronic management. 

The bill has been navigating the legislature since 2012, long before the coronavirus outbreak. Hong Kong’s judiciary is behind by 57 months (according to the scheme’s original plans) with the execution of phase one, the first of two phases.

The Legislative Council brief proposes that “this change will facilitate more timely and efficient communication with the court and among parties.” In addition, it will “help to reduce paper usage, resulting in positive environmental implications.”

ONC Lawyers’ Consultant, Mr Joshua Chu, who specialises in Technology Law, believes the court’s transition to electronic is a step to the right direction. Something he has had on his “wish list” for 2020. 

“These past few weeks if anything show businesses can work remotely and should get acquainted with working remotely. The judiciary is no exception,” Mr Chu said, adding that this is an example of when “adversity spurs innovation.” 

But these changes are merely temporary, adds Mr Dominic Wai, partner in charge of emerging technologies and financial crime practice at ONC Lawyers. 

“I think the court will go back to normal with their usual proceedings and way of doing things and await the bill,” he said.

One dispute lawyer at a firm in Central, who requested to remain anonymous, surmises that Hong Kong will stick to using paper methods for court proceedings.

“A lot of top lawyers are from an older generation who were trained with proper physical bundling of files and those practices passed on… I think it will take a younger generation of litigators to really get e-courts,” she said.

She hopes the legal landscape in HK will open up to digital legal practices, as it is an opportunity to welcome means of working that are environmentally friendly and permit social distancing.

The Legislative Council brief proposes that “this change will facilitate more timely and efficient communication with the court and among parties.” In addition, it will “help to reduce paper usage, resulting in positive environmental implications.”

One dispute lawyer at a firm in Central surmises that Hong Kong will stick to using paper methods for court proceedings.

“A lot of top lawyers are from an older generation who were trained with proper physical bundling of files and those practices passed on… I think it will take a younger generation of litigators to really get e-courts,” she said.

She hopes the legal landscape in HK will open up to digital legal practices, as it is an opportunity to welcome means of working that are environmentally friendly and permit social distancing.

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the author

Annette is a writer with previous experience covering the entertainment industry. A UCSD communication major, she now seeks to venture into political and environmental matters in her path to become a well-rounded journalist.

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