Magna Carta cited in Hong Kong

Warren Ganesh, Senior Consultant, Smyth & Co in association with RPC

A legal industry is opening-up around the Great Charter’s 800th anniversary this year. This is of considerable interest and relevance to all common law jurisdictions, including Hong Kong.

The Magna Carta has been cited with a judicial nod in numerous cases in Hong Kong, both before and after reunification in 1997; most recently in Ghulam Rbani v Secretary for Justice (2014) 17 HKCFAR 138. Some of its core values are as relevant today as back then.

In his speech at the “St Paul’s College 163rd Anniversary Speech Day” on 4 December 2014, the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, had this to say about the Magna Carta:

“So why have I spent so long in making this introduction to the importance of the rule of law in Hong Kong? It is because the underlying principles of the Magna Carta are timeless, as relevant today as they were 800 years ago”.

The full text of the speech appears on the Hong Kong judiciary website (

Some of the Magna Carta’s core values include: aspects of the right to access the courts (also see Art. 35 of the Basic Law of HKSAR), respect for private property and compensation for the deprivation of property (see Art. 6 and 105 of the Basic Law) and protection from arbitrary detention (and the later writ of habeas corpus – see Art. 28 of the Basic Law).

At the heart of many of these fundamental rights is the rule of law and observance of the court process (whether involving private citizens, corporations, or government bodies – domestic or foreign).

An interesting issue, perhaps, for law students to mull over (for example, in their legal system and legal method classes) is the extent to which the Magna Carta can be said to be part of the common law of Hong Kong.