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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.