Evidence of the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the claimant's financial position was not enough to show an inability to pay adverse costs in a recent application for security for costs in the High Court. Although this decision demonstrates the court's willingness to consider the impact of the pandemic and the looming economic downturn in considering a party's financial viability for the purposes of a security for costs application, general evidence of the pandemic's economic impact will not suffice.
In a recent case, the High Court allowed the defendants' applications to dismiss the plaintiff's two actions on the ground of abuse of process – in particular, given that no procedural step had been taken by the parties since 1 April 2009, just before the civil procedure reforms came into effect in Hong Kong. Although each application for dismissal based on abuse of process turns on its facts, this case demonstrates that egregious delay and inaction can prove fatal.
In a recent case, a court explored whether a borrower had been validly served when the borrower had failed to comply with its contractual obligation to ensure that a process agent remained in place at all times. The court's decision shows that it will adopt a commercial approach to the interpretation of process agent clauses and, where possible, it will give effect to such clauses' primary purpose of allowing a speedy and certain means of service.
The Court of Appeal recently considered the general principles for granting summary judgment (judgment without trial) in the context of cases involving 'water leakage' between apartments above and below one another. Summary judgment is difficult to obtain in Hong Kong, save for simple debt-type actions. However, there tend to be few winners in neighbour disputes involving water leakage which are ripe for alternative dispute resolution, provided there is goodwill on both sides.
In a recent case, the court declined to continue interim injunctions granted in respect of a 'coin depot account' holding bitcoin over which the claimants asserted a proprietary right. On this occasion, the balance of convenience in respect of continuing the injunctions did not lie with the claimants, including because damages would be an adequate remedy.
Where parties have entered into separate but related contracts, a breach of one contract does not necessarily preclude the recovery of damages under another. In a recent ruling, the Privy Council summarised the law in respect of remoteness of damage for breach of contract. In principle, the purpose of damages for breach of contract is to put the party whose rights have been breached in the same position, so far as money can do so, as if their rights had been observed.
The High Court recently allowed a defendant to rely on an expert's reports at trial, even though the expert witness had failed to verify his reports with a statement of truth or include a declaration that he agreed to be bound by the Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses. In the normal course of events, an expert report that lacks a statement of truth or a declaration will be inadmissible.
How are contradictory dispute resolution clauses resolved where the agreements are entered into at different times? Intention and purpose are key, as set out in the test in BNP Paribas v Trattamento. In a recent case, the parties intended two agreements to perform separate roles as part of one transaction (even though the second was not contemplated at the time of the first) and the court found that the Trattamento guide is to be followed.
Since the general adjourned period (GAP) ended on 3 May 2020, when the courts resumed normal business in Hong Kong, reported cases of COVID-19 infection have approximately tripled. At the time of writing, Hong Kong is experiencing a 'third wave' of infections. The next few weeks appear to be crucial in ascertaining whether the rate of infection will ease – failing which court users face the possibility of another GAP, during which the courts could close again save for urgent and essential court business.
The High Court recently clarified the rules applicable to defendants domiciled in states that are party to the EU Recast Brussels Regulation (1215/2012). Following the decision, the court has jurisdiction to hear a claim against a non-UK defendant under Article 8(1) of the regulation only if the claim against the UK-domiciled anchor defendant is sustainable.
Although parties are expected to exchange key documents before starting proceedings in the English courts, a recent Commercial Court decision highlights the limited nature of those obligations, particularly in a commercial context. Even though the judge was prepared to accept, albeit with some hesitation, that the jurisdictional threshold for making an order had been met, the application was unsuccessful.
In Hwang v Golden Electronics Inc, the Court of First Instance of the High Court has approved a novel order allowing the plaintiffs to serve certain court documents on several of the defendants using a data room. The order provides that the plaintiffs shall send a court-approved letter by post or email to the defendants providing a link to the data room and, by separate post or email, an access code with instructions to access the data room.
In a recent High Court decision, a successful party was declined some of its costs on the basis of its unreasonable refusal to engage in mediation. The court's approach is consistent with two other recent cases in which the courts awarded indemnity costs against litigants that had failed to follow directions or give serious consideration to the obligation to engage in alternative dispute resolution.
A second guidance note on the use of remote hearings in civil proceedings took effect on 15 June 2020. The guidance note (representing Phase 2) provides for expanded videoconferencing facilities and telephone hearings with respect to the civil business of the first-instance courts and the Court of Appeal. Phase 2 is to be read together with the Phase 1 guidance note issued on 2 April 2020. Phase 2 is more comprehensive and provides more options for connecting with the courts' videoconferencing facilities.
In what circumstances will a party waive privilege over legal advice by referring to it in evidence? Reference to the fact of the advice may not be sufficient but reliance on that advice is likely to be. Further, a limited waiver of privilege over certain documents does not mean that those documents are irrelevant from a privilege point of view thereafter and that their subsequent deployment could not result in collateral waiver.
In a recent decision the High Court considered the scope of the existing exceptions to the without prejudice rule. This well-known rule protects communications made in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute from later deployment in court. The High Court allowed passages from papers prepared for a mediation to be admitted into the proceedings under two exceptions to the without prejudice rule.
The High Court has issued an important reminder of the need for solid evidence of a real risk that a respondent will take steps to dissipate their assets to frustrate a judgment in applications to continue a worldwide freezing order. Evidence of dishonesty alone is not enough, and conduct falling short of dishonesty is less likely to suffice.
As expected, the judiciary in Hong Kong has announced that it will expand the use of remote hearings for civil cases. To date, under the Guidance Note for Remote Hearings for Civil Business in the High Court (Phase 1) – which came into effect during the general adjourned period – remote hearings using videoconferencing facilities have focused on civil hearings in the High Court involving interlocutory applications or appeals that can be decided on documents and legal submissions.
English law's flexible, rational, yet stable approach to contractual interpretation has been demonstrated again in a recent decision concerning commission payments. The decision is logical and sensible by reference both to the case's commercial context and the contract's wording and exemplifies the benefit of choosing English law as the forum for resolving contractual disputes.
The general adjourned period, during which the courts in Hong Kong were closed save for urgent and essential court business, ended on 4 May 2020. From that date, the civil courts generally resumed normal business, although certain public health measures remain in place and it will take some time before the backlog of civil cases is cleared, particularly as the courts' resources were already stretched before COVID-19.