Hong Kong was a British colony until 30 June 1997, when it became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
It really is a unique city where East meets West.
Hong Kong adopted the common law legal system as developed in England and other countries that trace their legal heritage to England (such as Australia, Canada, Singapore or South Africa).
Although Hong Kong has, since 1997, returned to China, it retains a high degree of autonomy in a number of areas, including its legal system which remains a common law system. English, an official language, is predominantly used in civil proceedings. Senior judges from other common law jurisdictions regularly sit on the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s highest court.
In Hong Kong, the legal profession is divided between solicitors and barristers. A lawyer can be one or the other, but not both at the same time.
Solicitors undertake a wide variety of legal work, both contentious and non-contentious. Non-contentious involves transactional work like conveyancing. Contentious basically means litigation, criminal or civil.
Criminal litigation refers to the defence of criminal prosecutions. Crimes range from minor misdemeanours, such as littering, to more serious felonies such as robbery or murder as well as white-collar fraud or corruption.
Civil litigation refers to private disputes between two or more parties. It includes such things as compensation for breach of contract or injuries suffered as a result of another’s negligence, damages and injunctions for intellectual property infringement, divorce proceedings, or probate actions.
In a civil litigation, the solicitor will have primary contact with the client and will manage the case from beginning to end. A good example of 'beginning to end' is the 747 engines case I did (see section on 'About myself'). The work involved for me as a solicitor in that case did not end once we obtained the court injunction. We also had to execute it at Hong Kong International Airport, and then arrange for the physical removal of the aircraft engines.
As and when necessary, the litigation solicitor will engage specialists to assist. Examples include private investigators to gather evidence, technical experts (such as doctors to advise on medical issues or builders on construction issues), mediators to assist with settlement, and – if the dispute ends up going to court – barristers.
Barristers (often called ‘counsel’) are specialist advocates who are often engaged to represent a client’s interests in court, to advise on the law, or to draft the pleadings (the legal documents which frame a case or defence) or other court documents.
Barristers are generally instructed by the solicitor, who act as an intermediary for the client. In this sense, the solicitor-barrister relationship is loosely analogous to the general practitioner-medical specialist relationship.