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Hong Kong - Legal System
The court system, which is bilingual, is made up of the District Court, High Court, Court of Final Appeal, Court of First Instance, and Court of Appeal. Additional bodies are the Lands Tribunal, Obscene Articles Tribunal, the Magistrates' Courts, the Juvenile Court, the Coroner's Court, the Labour Tribunal, and the Small Claims Tribunal. Legal matters are handled by The Department of Justice.
In the Court of Final Appeal, there are five judges— the Chief Justice, 3 permanent judges and one non-permanent judge from Hong Kong or a further common law jurisdictions. In addition, a panel of 8 non-permanent Hong Kong judges and 9 non-permanent judges from other common law jurisdictions are included. The Court of Final Appeal is the highest appellate court. The Court of the Appeal of the High Court, on the other hand, hears appeals on civil and criminal matters from the Court of First Instance, the District Court, and the Lands Tribunal.
The Court of First Instance of the High Court enjoys unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. It oversees a range of situations including mental health issues, family matter, bankruptcy, company winding-up, adoption, and probate. In cases where the crimes are serious offences, such as rape and murder, a trial overseen by a judge of the Court of First Instance and a jury of 7 is conducted.
The District Court is able to hear monetary claims up to $1 million or. The court can try serious cases in its criminal jurisdiction, but it cannot try rapes, murders, or manslaughters. Seven years is the court’s imposed maximum term of imprisonment. Magistrates can only impose 2 years imprisonment or a fine of $100,000, but in some cases it can become three years imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000,000. Depending on the brevity of the case, the prosecution might ask that the case be transferred to the District Court. There are 73 Magistrates with the Chief Magistrate being in charge. Seven Special Magistrates oversee cases that include violations such as traffic offences and hawking contraventions.
In the Juvenile Court, charges against children who are under the age of 14 and those young persons between the ages of 14 and 16 are handled for any offence but murder. Those under the age of 10 are excused from criminal responsibility. There is limited press coverage in a juvenile court and the identity of a defendant is hidden as much as possible.
The Lands Tribunal can be of importance to an expat since it deals with claims by landlords and tenants. It can also rule over building management disputes. The Labour Tribunal, on the other hand, deals with claims arising from a breach of a contract of employment. Some of these claims might include maternity pay leave, annual leave pay, wages in lieu of notice, arrears of wages, sickness allowance, and long service payments.
If you find that you are in need of an attorney then you can either search for one on your own or ask for recommendations from other expats or colleagues. Attorneys in Hong Kong tend to specialize in different areas, much in the same way they do in other Western countries. It is helpful to find one who is familiar with the kind of situation you are in. If you don’t have the funds to pay for an attorney then you can apply for legal aid at the legal aid department as long as your monthly income does not exceed HK$20,000. When the legal aid department grants you a certificate you can choose an attorney from their roster of attorneys.
In emergency situations, you should contact your consulate. Although the consulates are unable to help out financially, they can offer a list of attorneys which could be helpful. In rare cases, they might be able to assist you in legal matters although you are still subjected to Hong Kong’s laws, regardless of your nationality.