CityU School of Law 30th Anniversary Kick-off Lecture

CityU School of Law held a Kick-off Lecture on 21 September 2017. It was a special night, as it marked the debut of CityU’s 30th Anniversary Celebration series. Over 200 participants, comprising students, alumni, teachers and external legal practitioners joined to listen to Rt. Hon. Lord Justice David Richards give the inaugural lecture: International Insolvency: Conflict or Co-operation?.

Prof. Lin Feng welcomed guests and explained the School’s history. Interestingly, he noted that back in 1987, the School of Law was called the “Department of Law”, which fell under the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Science. In the Chinese tradition, when a man reaches the age of 30, he should be fully established and independent. That is, ‘而立之年’ in Chinese. The same saying could be applied to describe the status of CityU’s School of Law. Now, the School of Law is in its best shape, vibrant in teaching and research activities. Over the years, we have striven to provide high-quality legal education to undergraduates and postgraduates, many of whom have established successful legal practices in the public and private sectors.

Mr. Justice Harris, who was appointed as judge of HKSAR in 2009 and later became a Companies and Insolvency Judge of the High Court, moderated the Lecture. He indicated that cross-border insolvency is particularly significant to Hong Kong as an international financial centre.

Lord Justice Richards then took over the session. In his lecture, he explained that the system of insolvency law helps to maximise the benefits of creditors, employees and other stakeholders. The outcome of winding-up an insolvent business, if steps are taken quickly, can be positive – for example, when the insolvent business is sold to a third party. However, the liquidation procedures in Hong Kong usually take a long time, which effectively prevents businesses from being rescued. All other advanced economies have addressed this issue by enacting effective liquidation and rescue procedures, thereby acknowledging the growing importance of efficiently managing cross-border insolvencies in our increasingly globalised economy. Lord Justice Richards illustrated a few significant examples, from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (“BCCI”) scandal in 1991 to the recent Lehman Brothers case. In these cases, judges in different jurisdictions cooperated across borders. He also highlighted the aspirations and limitations for co-operation on cross-border insolvencies. As an example, he pointed to the 2009 Nortel case, in which the insolvency procedures were carried out effectively: subsidiaries’ asset separation was simultaneously discussed in courts situated in different jurisdictions by video-linked conferences, so that counsels could join the proceeding to reach a decision. In addition, arbitration could be another route to decide the allocation of properties. Communication between courts is essential; however, differing time zones and the lack of a common language will be limiting factors. Nonetheless, these issues might be solved by discussion through written channels and by an administrator who has a good command of two particular languages.

A few participants asked probing questions in the Q&A session that followed the lecture. When asked about the ideal attributes of recent law graduates, Lord Justice Richards indicated that practitioners’ increasing niche specialisations has resulted from the complexities in modern society. While it is impossible to be a specialist in all areas, graduates should also have a good foundation in the major areas of law. They should understand the subject matter in a general sense instead of being confined by one stream of law. Justice Harris added that legal education should not be limited to law students, but could be incorporated into the 4-year degree curriculum for students of other disciplines, for example, to connect students with basic concepts of business and commercial law. Two judges also suggested to include mooting in Hong Kong legal education, as this is directly relevant to legal practice, which can better ensure students develop requisite drafting skills, as well as learn to sweep away unimportant evidence. They mentioned that the recent International Insolvency Moot in Sydney was a good competition. The finalist teams were from Asia, which showed that Asians had a formidable ability to compete against teams from all over the world. Last, Justice Harris encouraged the Law School to join the competition, as it would be valuable exposure.

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