Belt & Road Justice Challenge: Cultivating Innovation with Hackathon

On 28 September, the Innotech Law Hackathon: Belt and Road Justice Challenge (“BRJ Hackathon”) organised by the InnoTech Committee (“ITC”) was successfully held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Over 140 individuals registered for the BRJ Hackathon, and after a screening round, over 50 finalists competed for great prizes. It was the first hackathon focusing on access to justice challenges in the Belt and Road (“B&R”) Region.

The level of participation and quality of the solutions in the BRJ Hackathon exceeded expectations. It was the sequel to the Access to Justice InnoTech Law Hackathon (“A2J Hackathon”), which was held at Cyberport on 7-8 April. The BRJ Hackathon encouraged participants to enhance access to justice internationally by building bots and mobile Apps. Hackathons are typically intense one or two-day competitions, where teams participate to explore, design and create technology-enabled solutions to address problems relating to specific subject domains.

Each team underwent a rigorous two-part adjudication, demonstrating the solution in a 10-minute interactive Science Fair-style exhibition and a three-minute pitch session before the judging panel. Competing teams (with two to six members each) developed solutions for either scenario: (i) a Hong Kong resident visited a B&R country requiring local advice concerning criminal, employment and personal injury laws; or (ii) a citizen from a B&R country working in Hong Kong facing problems relating to family and immigration laws and the legal aid schemes. Many solutions contain elements of chatbot interfaces, machine-translation and natural language processing technologies, which seem highly appropriate to help the public access legal services when travelling abroad. Indeed, the champion team developed a mobile App for sexual assault victims seeking legal advice.

We encouraged cross-disciplinary innovation and collaboration. The teams had a mix of students, professionals and entrepreneurs with legal, software engineering and other backgrounds. Microsoft provided guidance and resources instrumental to the BRJ Hackathon. Many members of the legal, start-up, academic and technology communities provided mentoring and other support.

The BRJ Hackathon ambitiously and unconventionally amalgamated the disparate topics of the B&R Initiative (“BRI”), technology and access to justice. Participants were invited to examine legal issues directly impacting individuals in the B&R Region. They were not about infrastructural projects, complex financings and cross-border logistics – topics usually associated with the BRI - but we should see the growing importance of these issues. As the BRI continues to develop, people would increasingly travel between the B&R countries for work and leisure, and legal issues are bound to transpire.

The A2J and BRJ Hackathons are part of the Law Society’s initiative to enhance technology competency in the law and promote legal innovation. Both hackathons showed that there is a great interest in developing a technology-focused community for promoting access to justice in Hong Kong and the B&R Region. We are therefore encouraged by the results, and hope to assist teams that are ready, willing and able to further develop their solutions for actual implementation.

Reported by: Sebastian Ko

Participating teams presented their tech solutions to the judging panel which included (from right) Mr. Gary Yeung, Vice President of Smart City Consortium; Mr. Nick Chan, Council Member and ITC Vice Chairman; and Dr. Eric Chang, Senior Director of Technology Strategy, Microsoft Research Asia at the Exhibition “Science Fair-style” desks.

The BRJ Hackathon was graced by the presence of our Guests of Honours including (from fourth from left in the first row) Prof. Alfred Chan, Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission; Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng; Mr. Thomas Kwong, Director of Legal Aid; and Mr. Stephen Wong, Privacy Commissioner for Data Protection.

(From left) Vice President Amirali Nasir, ITC Chairman; Mr. Jorge Neto Valente, President of the Macau Lawyers Association; Past President Huen Wong, Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Law Society’s Belt & Road Conference 2018, Mr. Sebastian Ko, and Mr. Tony Lai, Co-Chairman of the CodeX Stanford Blockchain Group and Founder of Legal.io.

Participating teams demonstrating solutions to guests including Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng.

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