Hong Kong’s First Telephonic Court Hearing

We are acting for the Plaintiff in Cyberworks Audio Video Technology Limited v Mei Ah (HK) Company Limited & Ors [2020] HKCFI 347, a case where the High Court conducted an unprecedented hearing via telephonic conference after the trial was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Faced with travel restrictions imposed on one of the key witnesses for the long trial, we proactively sought the Defendants’ consent to allow this witness to give evidence via video link and then applied to the Honourable Mr. Justice Coleman for such directions. Our use of electronic trial bundles facilitated the telephone directions hearing and enabled the overseas witness to readily access trial bundles when he gave evidence via video link. Our team also wrote to the Judge asking to provide submissions via email which the Judiciary proceeded to roll out.

In light of the General Adjournment Period (the “GAP”) and disruptions to Court services, Coleman J determined that a directions hearing can, and should, be conducted by telephone for case management purposes.  Coleman J found that such an arrangement is not contrary to statutory provisions and is facilitative of the Civil Justice Reform’s pursuit of cost-effective, procedurally economic, and expeditious dispute resolution.  Coleman J also pointed out how directions hearings are often held by telephone in commercial arbitrations. 

This decision was the latest addition to the ranks of incoming changes seeking to modernise the city’s dispute resolution landscape and Judiciary.  The upcoming launch of the eBRAM Online Dispute Resolution platform, for instance, is anticipated to help digitalise commercial dispute resolution and deal-making by doing away with the need for physical meetings and travelling.  The Court Proceedings (Electronic Technology) Bill, which was introduced into the Legislative Council for its first reading on 8 January 2020, seeks to implement the practice of filing and sending Court related documents through electronic means, taking us one step closer to a paperless Judiciary.

At least a decade has passed since the Civil Justice Reform was implemented, and as Coleman J remarked, the GAP and the COVID-19 outbreak is an opportunity for the Court and stakeholders to reconsider how cases can be more effectively managed in the future.

The case is a welcome move from the Judiciary and reiterates the need to continue to strive for greater use of technology in dispute resolution for maximum cost-effectiveness and procedural economy. Coleman J provided helpful guidance on the practicalities of case management in the context of the GAP which will remain beneficial long after the end of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Senior Partner Nick Gall and Senior Associate Felda Yeung at Gall

Senior Partner, Gall

Senior Associate, Gall