In a recent case, a High Court judge dismissed the defendants' application that she recuse herself from a substantive hearing in contempt proceedings. The application was based on what the defendants submitted was a reasonable apprehension of bias ('apparent bias') – in particular, they claimed that in an earlier decision involving the same parties, the judge had prejudged a question of fact that was crucial in the contempt proceedings.
In a recent case, the Court of First Instance discharged ex parte (without notice) injunctions restraining the second defendant from disposing of or dealing with its assets in Hong Kong. The injunctions were granted in aid only of the plaintiffs' claims against the first defendant which were being pursued in parallel proceedings in mainland China. This was on the basis that the second defendant's assets should be available to satisfy the plaintiffs' eventual judgment against the first defendant.
The Court of Final Appeal recently reaffirmed the principles applicable when the courts consider making an enhanced award of costs in favour of the successful party (ie, 'indemnity costs'). The judgment makes it clear that the courts' discretion to award indemnity costs is unrestricted – although, as a basic requirement, such costs should be ordered only when it is appropriate to do so and the receiving party must be able to show that the case has some special or unusual feature.
In re Zadeh v Registrar of Companies, the Court of First Instance held that an application by an overseas company to intervene as a party in existing proceedings in Hong Kong did not expose it to a liability to provide security for costs and that, even if the court did have jurisdiction to order security for costs, it would not have ordered the intervener to do so. Although security for costs against overseas or dubiously solvent plaintiffs is a useful tool in civil litigation, this case demonstrates some of the procedural limits.
In an important and interesting judgment, the High Court declined to admit an overseas barrister unless he appeared with a local barrister. The applicant had applied for ad hoc admission to conduct a case in Hong Kong, on the basis that he would appear with the two solicitor advocates who had charge of the case. Therefore, they sought the removal of what is a usual condition to the grant of ad hoc admission – namely, that the applicant (an English Queen's Counsel) appear with a local barrister.
Summary judgment is not available in Hong Kong civil actions which include a claim based on an allegation of fraud. The rule has traditionally been broadly interpreted by the courts, such that any claim raising an allegation of dishonesty against a defendant prevents a plaintiff from applying for summary judgment. The inflexibility of this rule, and the ambit of the meaning of 'dishonesty' in this context, have been the subject of judicial criticism. Now, there are proposals afoot to abolish the so-called 'fraud exception'.
In China Medical Technologies Inc (In Liquidation) v Bank of East Asia Ltd, the court granted an ex parte order extending the validity of a writ, effectively giving the plaintiffs an additional year in which to effect service. The High Court has now discharged that order with the consequences that service was set aside and the action dismissed. This is the latest in a number of similar decisions and suggests that the courts will in future scrutinise extension applications much more closely.
Hong Kong has a high incidence of litigants in person, which is largely explained by the cost of civil litigation generally, the absence of class actions, contingent fee arrangements and third-party funding of most civil claims, and the financial eligibility limits for civil legal aid. As recent decisions show, the rates at which litigants in person are awarded costs are far from generous and, to get more, they have to prove that they had to work on the case during their working hours or that they suffered actual pecuniary loss.