Airport Authority v Persons Unlawfully and Wilfully Obstructing or Interfering Etc.
Coleman J in Chambers
29 October 2020

In light of protests at the Hong Kong International Airport (the Airport), P, the Airport Authority, obtained an ex parte interim injunction against Ds, persons unlawfully and wilfully obstructing and interfering with the proper use of the Airport, under which substituted service was to be effected inter alia by publishing the order and the writ in one English and one Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong for three days. The injunction was later continued and varied. Under that continuation order, substituted service was granted on the same basis albeit that the newspaper publication was for only one day. As a result, P incurred more than $2.6 million on newspaper publication. P later applied for substituted service of the Statement of Claim and any subsequent documents in the action (the Documents) by: (a) posting a copy of the Documents on the Airport’s website; (b) fixing a copy of the Documents at entrances to and within the landside areas of the Airport Terminal 1 building; and (c) exhibiting in conspicuous places in the Airport a notice containing a QR code linked to the Documents on P’s website (the Proposed Method). Whilst satisfied that the Proposed Method should be sufficient for the subsequent documents, Master Kot made an order (the Kot Order) requiring the Statement of Claim and the Kot Order to be advertised in one English newspaper and one Chinese newspaper for one day, and to be posted in full across the Airport island. P appealed.

Held, allowing the appeal and making an order in terms of the Proposed Method, that:

In recent cases involving unnamed defendants identified by description, the court had been satisfied that service of documents need not be by way of advertisement in newspapers, but could be by way of posting the documents at conspicuous places on the subject premises and on websites. Effecting service through the use of modern technology may be accepted by the court as giving effect to the underlying objectives under O.1A r.1(a) and (c) of the Rules of the High Court (Cap.4A, Sub.Leg.), as well as the mandate for the court actively to manage cases. The use of a QR code on publicly available or posted documents, linking the user of the QR code to the court documents on a website, was something which the court could consider and encourage as an effective and proportionate way of likely bringing the documents to the attention of the relevant parties. It would however be necessary to ensure the sufficiently prominent display of a QR code with clear instructions for its use. This method may be particularly suited to cases where there were large numbers of defendants or potential defendants, or where there was a significant volume of documentary material to be served (Secretary for Justice v Persons Unlawfully and Wilfully Conducting Etc [2019] 5 HKLRD 465, Hwang Joon Sang v Golden Electronics Inc [2020] 5 HKC 72 applied). (See paras.15–16, 18.)
The use of the QR code in this case was appropriate, proportionate and economical. Given the prominent use of social media and other modern modes of communication for gaining news and information, publishing in newspapers was duplicative and unnecessary. Any incremental benefit in effecting service by newspaper publication and physically across the entire Airport island seemed to be wholly disproportionate to the substantial time, labour, and cost involved. (See paras.23–25, 27.)
The Proposed Method was entirely apt and sufficient for service of the Documents. Once it was accepted that the Proposed Method was sufficient to bring the other documents to the attention of defendants and would-be defendants, there was no rational basis for requiring a different approach to service of the Statement of Claim. (See paras.28–29.)

Appeal

This was the plaintiff’s appeal against the order of Master Kot dated 31 July 2020 relating to the substituted service of court documents.