Jun 2020

The Impact Of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Hong Kong Judiciary and Steps Taken in Mitigation

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hong Kong Judiciary adjourned all Court proceedings from 29 January 2020.  This was known as the General Adjournment Period (“GAP”) which lasted until 4 May 2020. During the GAP, exceptions were made for “urgent and essential hearings and/or matters”.  Given the volume of cases in the Court system, this has caused a tremendous backlog of Court business.

During GAP, the Hong Kong Family Court was relatively active in dealing with urgent cases, especially when children issues were involved. With the children’s best interests in mind and at the Judge’s discretion, in addition to urgent applications such as applications for temporary removal of children from Hong Kong and their “return” as a result of the pandemic, the Family Court also permitted Children Dispute Resolution hearings and hearings for interim maintenance to be conducted during GAP.

Following the Judgement of Hon. Coleman J. in [2020] HKCFI 347 in which he directed that a telephone directions hearing in the High Court be held during GAP, family law practitioners also requested the Family Court to consider telephone hearing one option to deal with directions during GAP.

To minimise the disruption of proceedings, the Family Court also dealt with various hearings by way of “paper disposal” without a live hearing in appropriate cases. In some cases, the Court was able to deal with the matter based on the written submissions of the parties alone.  This was appropriate for the giving of directions regarding the future conduct of the matter or simple applications, such as for extensions of time for the filing of documents.

In our view, the COVID-19 pandemic which led to the unprecedented situation of GAP is an opportunity for the Courts and legal practitioners to reassess how cases can best be managed efficiently, cost-effectively and expeditiously in different circumstances.

Written by: Willard Li, Patricia Liu