Adam Woellhaf, March 2014
About the author
This guide was updated by Adam Woellhaf.
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Hong Kong is a region with a distinct and unique legal and constitutional history. Formerly a British Crown Colony for 155 years, since 1997 it has been a ‘special administrative region’ of the People’s Republic of China. This past and present is reflected in its legal system: it is a common law system within the civil, socialistic legal system of the wider PRC – know as ‘One Country, Two Systems.’ Hong Kong also maintains a capitalistic economic system within ‘communist’ China.
Hong Kong has undergone momentous constitutional change during the past 25 years, and it is useful to mention some of the most significant dates in its recent history, as outlined in a BBC timeline on Hong Kong:
1842 China ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain.
1898 China leased the area north of Kowloon to the British for 99 years from 1 July.
1982 Talks began between China and UK over the future of Hong Kong.
1984 On 19 December, the Chinese and British Governments signed the Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, affirming Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong from 1 July 1997.
1985 The Hong Kong Act provided for the ending of British sovereignty and jurisdiction over Hong Kong.
1997 On 1st July, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. It enjoys a lot of autonomy, and keeps in place much of the legal system previously established. The Basic Law enshrines the principle of “one country, two systems”.
IALS Library has a comprehensive collection of primary and secondary material for Hong Kong, both current and past, held at GM6. The current material is shelved on floor L2 of the Library on open access. Older or superseded material is kept in the reserve collection in the closed basement, and can be quickly fetched for readers during Library opening hours.
The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China was adopted on 4 April 1990, and came into effect on 1 July 1997. Its preamble mentions the principle of “one country, two systems” by which socialist systems and policies will not be practised in Hong Kong. The Basic Law identifies the sources of law for Hong Kong SAR since July 1997. Article 8 states:
The laws previously in force in Hong Kong, that is, the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation and customary law shall be maintained, except for any that contravene this Law, and subject to any amendment by the legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Article 18 states:
The laws in force in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be this Law, the laws previously in force in Hong Kong as provided for in Article 8 of this Law, and the laws enacted by the legislature of the Region.
The Basic Law can be found in volume 1 of the Laws of Hong Kong, 1991-. The Basic Law is made available electronically by the Department of Justice of the Government of Hong Kong SAR, and also on the Hong Kong Legal Information Institute website.
A 900 page commentary on the Basic Law has been written by P Y Lo and is shelved at GM6.C.1 LO. It includes the full text of the basic law in English and Chinese, as well as a table of cases and legislation: The Hong Kong Basic Law (2001), Hong Kong: LexisNexis.
The current series for legislation is the Laws of Hong Kong, 1991-. This is the authorised loose-leaf multi-volume edition, printed and published by the Government Printer, HKSAR. It comes as a parallel text in Chinese and English, and is regularly updated. It contains the ordinances and subsidiary legislation, some constitutional instruments, and indexes. The beginning of volume 1 offers a useful guide to the series with notes on finding out what is in force. The master checklist, at the beginning, is a rigorous table of contents of the whole series. The index volume includes an index in order of number of strokes of Chinese characters, an index of legislation in English, and subject indexes to legislation in Chinese and English. A chronological table of ordinances is included in the index volume.
Official sets of legislation, previous to 1991, are also available at IALS and are kept mainly in the reserve collection, including various consolidations of the Ordinances (1844-) and the Regulations (1948 – 1999).
The Ordinances and Regulations of HKSAR are available on the internet on HKLII. See below for more details.
A useful outline of the court system in Hong Kong can be found on the judiciary website.
IALS subscribes to the following series of reports:
Hong Kong law reports and digest (Thomson, 1997- 2006) GM6.G.1
Hong Kong criminal law reports (1992-1995) GM6.G.1
Hong Kong law reports (1905-1996) GM6.G.1
Hong Kong tax cases, loose-leaf, 1983- GM6.G.5
Decisions of the Hong Kong Inland Revenue Board of Review, (1979-2009) FOL GM6.G.6
Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal reports, (1997- 2006) GM6.G.7
Many decisions of the Hong Kong Courts are now available free on HKLII, see below for more details.
Halsbury’s Laws of Hong Kong, 2011 (2nd) edition - (GM6.H.4), is in 54 volumes and forms an encyclopaedia of the laws of Hong Kong. It is arranged alphabetically by some 80 subjects. A table of legislation and table of cases are included. The current service notes up any changes to the main work, by paragraph number. Superseded volumes are kept in the reserve collection, which includes the 1st edition, 1995-2011 (RES GM6.H.4).
IALS also has a number of digest which are no longer current:
Digest of Hong Kong criminal case law (1905-1989) GM6.H.1
Digest of Hong Kong civil case law (1954-1991) GM6.H.2
Hong Kong law digest (1989-1996) GM3.H.3
Hong Kong law yearbook (1985-1996) GM6.H.3
IALS Library has a good representative collection of recent books on Hong Kong, on a variety of legal topics including
tort, criminal, civil procedure, financial, competition, company, intellectual property, family, etc. Most of the books concerning Hong Kong law are shelved at GM6.B-D. Some books will be shelved at GT28 with China, and comparative law books which feature Hong Kong can be found in SB.
A selection of books on Hong Kong law include:
Young, S.N.M., & Ghai, Yash, (2014) Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal: the development of law in China's Hong Kong. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, GM6.C.4 YOU
Ho, Betty M. & Hall, Stephen, (2013) Ho & Hall's Hong Kong contract law. Hong Kong: LexisNexis, GM6.D.1 HO
Wilkinson, M., Cheung, E. T. M., & Booth, C. N. (2011) A guide to civil procedure in Hong Kong. 4th ed. Hong Kong: LexisNexis, GM6.D.1 WIL
Johnston, G. (ed). (2009) Competition law in China and Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Sweet and Maxwell, GT28.D.2 JOH
Williams, Mark (2005) Competition policy and law in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, SB40 WIL
Wacks, Raymond (ed). (1993) Hong Kong, China and 1997: essays in legal theory. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, SA5 WAC
Check the IALS Library catalogue for more details.
A useful reference book for researchers is the Hong Kong Legal Dictionary (2004) RF75 HON, published by LexisNexis Butterworths. It contains almost 9000 definitions of words and phrases, with citations to relevant legislation and cases.
Hong Kong law journal, 1971-, in hard copy (GM6.J.2) and on Hein Online
Justitia: Hong Kong University Law Association review, 1972-1984, RES FOL GM6.J.3
Reports of the Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong, various, 1982-, FOL GM6.J.4. Many of these are also available on the Commission’s website
Hong Kong student law review, 1994-2005, GM6.J.5
Hong Kong journal of legal studies, 2010-2011, GM6.J.5 (formerly Hong Kong student law review, above)
Hong Kong is well indexed in the indexes to journal articles, both as a topic and as a source of publications. Academic users can use the following to identify journal articles about Hong Kong: Legal Journals Index on Westlaw UK, Lexis Library, Index to Legal Periodicals, and Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals.
HKLII is the Hong Kong Legal Information Institute and offers free access to Hong Kong legal information. The service started in 2003 and is jointly operated by the University of Hong Kong Department of Computer Science and the Law Faculty. The site aims to provide free access to primary and some secondary resources on the internet. The sources of data include the judiciary of Hong Kong SAR, the Department of Justice, the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, and the University of Hong Kong Law Library and Law Faculty.
The content includes legislation and court decisions. The Ordinances and Regulations of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are available from 1997 onwards. The legislation can be browsed by chapter number or title. Selected reports of the Law Reform Commission can be browsed by year or title. Court decisions include judgments of the Court of Final Appeal (1997-), the Court of Appeal (1946-), the Court of First Instance (1946-), and of some of the lower courts. Decisions can be browsed by year or by name.
Issues of the Basic Law bulletin can be accessed online. It is published jointly by the Department of Justice, the Civil Service Bureau and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, and highlights Basic Law court cases and other decisons relevant to the Basic Law, as well as introducing concepts and provisons. Issues are published once a year.
Eagle-i Internet Portal for Law provides access to legal information from around the world. You can browse by jurisdiction and choose Hong Kong to display details of over 30 primary and secondary resources on the law of Hong Kong.
Community Legal Information Centre (CLIC) is a bilingual legal information website established by the Law and Technology Centre of the University of Hong Kong. It is aimed at the general public, providing guidance to the law, arranged by subject, with links to legislation and related websites.