On 8 January 2020, the Court Proceedings (Electronic Technology) Bill was introduced into LegCo for its first reading.The Bill’s main object is to enable the use of electronic technology (e-technology) in proceedings in courts (and specified tribunals) and for court-related services, as an alternative to traditional paper-based methods. The plan is to implement an integrated court case management system in phases to streamline and standardise electronic court processes. It is proposed that implementation be in phases – first in the District Court, Summons Courts of Magistrates’ Courts and then extended to the Court of Final Appeal, High Court and remaining part of the Magistrates’ Courts and Small Claims Tribunal; then to the remaining courts and tribunals. While court users will be able to choose to continue to interact with the Judiciary and other parties concerned by conventional means, the Judiciary will encourage court users to transact court business by electronic means.
Bill’s key proposals:
- The Chief Justice will be empowered to specify the courts and tribunals in which e-technology may be used, make rules to regulate or prescribe the practice and procedure to be followed in the use of e-technology and rules for the payment of e-fees for court-related matters carried out by an electronic mode.
- Electronic filing or sending of documents to the court and the issuing and sending of documents from the court: this is to be allowed if two conditions are satisfied, namely (i) the relevant act is done by means of the e-system designated by the Chief Justice; and (ii) the information in the document can reasonably be expected to be accessible so as to be usable for future reference (accessibility requirement). Parties wishing to file or send documents to the court will have to first register with the Judiciary Administration.
- Electronic service of documents between parties to the proceedings: Parties will be able to agree to serve documents on one another in electronic form in accordance with any applicable e-rules and e-practice directions and subject to the accessibility requirement being met.
- Electronic authentication of documents: For court-related documents that are required or permitted to be signed, sealed or certified under a written law or court direction, parties will be allowed to use electronic signatures in accordance with e-rules and e-practice directions.
- Electronic copies of original or certified documents: Original/certified documents required/permitted by law or court direction to be sent to court may be sent to an e-court in electronic form using an e-system in accordance with any applicable e-rules and e-practice directions, as long as they meet the accessibility requirement referred to above.
- Electronic production of documents: Documents required/permitted by law or court direction to be “produced” as a paper document may be sent to an e-court in electronic form using an e-system in accordance with any applicable e-rules and e-practice directions and as long as the accessibility requirement is met.
- Printouts of documents: A printout produced from an electronic document issued by an e-court in accordance with any applicable e-rules and e-practice directions will have the same legal effect as the original or hard copy of that document.
- The Bill will not affect the general provision in the Electronic Transactions Ordinance (Cap 553) relating to the admissibility of electronic records in legal proceedings.
Further updates will be provided as the Bill proceeds through LegCo.