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How DVC has re-architected around COVID-19

23 Apr 2020

The coronavirus has seen the majority of countries pulling up their drawbridges as a result, and though Hong Kong is not materially different, recent figures have attested to its resilience. At the time of writing, Hong Kong has only had 1,030 confirmed cases, 650 of whom have recovered and only 4 deaths have been recorded: remarkable in a city known for being one of the most overcrowded in the world, with a population of over 7.5 million.

That being said, the HK Judiciary and HK’s legal practitioners have had to adapt to the new WFH era necessitated by GAP i.e. the General Adjournment Period. As many of you now, this has entailed the temporary closure of Court operations since late January 2020.

Yesterday, on 22 April, the Court issued a new Guideline which mandates that GAP will now end on 3 May 2020, and from 4 May onwards all Court proceedings will generally resume and all hearings both civil and criminal, including trials will resume unless the court makes specific directions to the contrary. Jury trials will however only begin again after May. Further updates can be found here.

In the interim however, the Guidance Note for Remote Hearings for Civil Business in the High Court has been in effect. These Guidelines, issued in early April state that remote hearings will be held through video-conferencing during GAP and applications will be disposed of on paper if and when suitable and appropriate, and as a first resort as far as possible.

“Where oral submissions are still necessary, the court will conduct remote hearings by means of available technology. A remote hearing can be conducted in and from any court room with VCF

available, or in and from any court room where VCF can be made available.”

Modernising around the disruption, Justice Coleman’s recent decision in Cyberworks Audio Video Technology Limited (In Compulsory Liquidation) v Mei Ah (HK) Company Ltd [2020] HKCFI 347 which involved a teleconference to resolve the decision broke with protocol and was a welcome step forward to bring about a swift resolution during these unprecedented times. Click here to listen to a DVC podcast which contains a reference to this recent deployment and how this, and  AI tools might assist the legal profession in the future.

DVC has given due consideration to the types of cases that can be heard during GAP, and these include all interlocutory applications or appeals in the Court of First Instance; final hearings usually dealt with on written evidence (without live oral evidence) such as applications for judicial review; and all civil appeals and interlocutory applications including applications for leave to appeal in the Court of Appeal.

How has DVC adapted to the new normal?

In a recent Judicial Review, involving the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Council, a remote hearing was conducted before Justice K. Yeung and this involved DVC’s Johnny Ma. The judge acknowledged the fact that the hearing was conducted smoothly and successfully.  It should also be noted that this took place in the Judiciary’s Technology Court. This Court is curated to display e-documents and hear testimony from overseas witnesses.

Given that it was recognized as being successful, will future hearings be conducted in the same way?

Steps taken by DVC members

Many of DVC’s members have lodged comprehensive written submissions to safeguard parties’ rights and interests during GAP. In fact, drafting and advisory works have continued unaffected during this period.

DVC’s members are also well equipped to attend remote hearings in accordance with the Guidelines.

In the first ever Virtual Vis East Moot on 29 March 2020, DVC’s Head of Chambers, Winnie Tam SC, JPparticipated as a panel member, and this was conducted by deploying Zoom.  This was supported by the Electronic Business Related Arbitration & Mediation (eBRAM). Further details in this regard can be found below.

DVC has also adopted Zoom and other alternative platforms, such as Skype (which offers end-to end encryption) for client conferences given that confidentiality is of paramount importance to DVC.

DVC has also produced podcasts which provide up to date content on COVID-19 and its intersection with the legal profession.

Members are also primed to produce (prerecorded) webinars on specific practice area topics. Details will follow shortly  – so watch this space.

To keep you in the know, DVC will shortly be rolling out its next newsletter, (the 2nd edition for 2020) and a series of Sector Booklets designed to provide a primer for legal developments on the horizon and as a way to look back in 2019’s rearview mirror and consolidate some of last year’s milestone cases and key takeaways.

eBRAM Online Dispute Resolution

The launch of the eBRAM Online Dispute Resolution platform is additionally expected to digitalize commercial dispute resolution once launched later this year and will be particularly relevant given that it circumvents the need for face-time, as in physical meetings. eBRAM is expected to bring about an efficient, cost-effective and safe online platform for deal-making, and for the resolution of cross-border commercial and investment disputes.

DVC’s Winnie Tam SC JP and Adrian Lai are both on the Board of Directors.