On Friday 17 July 2020, the Court Proceedings (Electronic Technology) Bill (Bill) was passed after a second and third reading shortly before the current Legislative Council term ended that night. The Bill was gazetted on 27 December 2019 and passed through the First Reading stage on 8 January 2020. No information is yet available as to when the Bill will come into force but this is likely to be before the end of 2020.
This marks a significant step in the Judiciary’s efforts to bring itself into line with other common law jurisdictions where electronic filing of Court documents has become routine. It is hoped that the passing, and implementation, of the Bill will help improve access to justice for users and litigants in Hong Kong Court proceedings.
Under the Information Technology Strategy Plan (ITSP), the Judiciary has been proactively developing an integrated court case management system (iCMS) over the last few years to enable handling court-related documents and payments electronically. At present, court proceedings are excluded from the operation of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance. In addition, the legislation relating to court procedures, spread over a number of Ordinances and rules, does not fully envisage the possibility of using electronic means for certain processes, e.g. filing of documents and payments.
Legislation is therefore necessary to implement the ITSP properly. The Bill is that piece in the puzzle which facilitates the filing and sending of court-related documents through electronic means, and enables the use of electronic signatures for court-related documents that require signing or certification, amongst other useful changes.
Subject to the enactment of the Bill and some further subsidiary legislation, the iCMS will first be implemented at the District Court and part of the Magistrates’ Courts. For more information on the key features of the Bill and the phases in which iCMS will be implemented, please read our previous blog post here.