District Court – jurisdiction – jurisdiction under s. 36 to hear application for declaratory relief as to beneficial ownership of real property – s. 36 to be liberally construed as jurisdiction-conferring provision empowering District Court to hear “pure” title cases – District Court Ordinance (Cap. 336)
In an action against D in the District Court, P sought summary judgment and declaratory relief that, pursuant to a deed of trust in respect of a property registered in the sole name of D, P was a beneficial joint tenant of the property. D challenged the jurisdiction of the Court to hear the case. The Deputy Judge held that, on a liberal interpretation, the Court had jurisdiction over a “pure” title case, as here, since s. 36 of the District Court Ordinance (Cap. 336) (the “DCO”) was a jurisdiction-conferring provision (see  1 HKLRD 1073). Section 36 provides that “The Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine any action which would otherwise be within the jurisdiction of the Court and in which the title to an interest in land” was disputed if the monetary limit of the rateable value of the land was not exceeded. In 2000, s. 32(1) of the DCO, which confers jurisdiction in cases founded on contract and tort, was amended by removing the proviso that “… the Court shall not, except as is provided in this Ordinance or by any other enactment, have jurisdiction to hear and determine – … b) any action in which the title to any hereditament is in question.” D appealed, arguing that none of the provisions in the DCO, in particular, s. 36, conferred jurisdiction on the District Court to hear the application.
Held, dismissing the appeal, that:
- The words in s. 36 “which would otherwise be within the jurisdiction of the Court and” should be construed in the context and history of s. 32(1). Before s. 32(1) was amended, those words in s. 36 made it clear that there was an exception by way of the proviso in s. 32(1), and s. 36 conferred jurisdiction on the District Court to hear and determine an action in which the title to any hereditament arose and which was within the monetary limit.
- Thus, on a liberal interpretation, s. 36 was a jurisdiction-conferring provision which reflected the legislative intent that the District Court have jurisdiction to hear and determine “pure” title cases within the relevant monetary limit. The legislature could not have intended, in removing the proviso in s. 32(1), to change s. 36 to a non-jurisdiction-conferring provision. Although some violence was done to the wording of s. 36 by a liberal construction, this was justified to give effect to the legislative intent that “pure” title cases should not be treated any differently from other land cases.
- P had established a prima facie case and since, on the evidence, D’s case was not believable, P was entitled to summary judgment.