On 13 July, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passed a law (the Apology Law) intended to facilitate the resolution of civil disputes in the territory. The Apology Law, which is expected to be gazetted and come into force shortly, reforms the legal consequences of making any sort of apology (written, oral or by conduct). An apology will not constitute an admission of fault or liability (even if it includes such an admission), nor may it be admissible in evidence to the detriment of the apology maker. This is the case unless the maker of the apology wishes it to be admitted or it falls to be admitted in the usual way through discovery, oral evidence or any equivalent tribunal processes.
Hong Kong is the first jurisdiction in Asia to enact apology legislation and its Apology Law is the broadest enacted to date worldwide. The driver behind it is that apologies may in some circumstances 'unlock' disputes and lead to settlement without recourse to formal legal action. Since parties (and their lawyers and insurers) may be reluctant to do anything that may be construed as an admission of liability, apologies have to date been sparse. The Apology Law seeks to incentivise disputing parties to make apologies, whether in the direct aftermath of an accident or dispute, or further down the line, should the dispute escalate.
The law has far-reaching consequences for anyone involved in contentious civil disputes, whether before the courts or tribunals in Hong Kong. The Apology Law has the scope substantially to change the way insurance, evidence and settlement are approached in civil proceedings and regulatory and disciplinary matters. The scope for ‘tactical’ apologies by counterparties should be borne in mind as set out below.