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Monday, November 28, 2016, 22:22

Steering committee recommends apology law

By chinadailyasia.com
Steering committee recommends apology law
In this June 5, 2015 file photo, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung shares his views on Hong Kong’s role in upholding national security. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

HONG KONG – An apology should not be linked to legal liabilities in all civil proceedings in Hong Kong, including disciplinary and regulatory proceedings, the Steering Committee on Mediation said in the final report over a proposed enactment of apology legislation in Hong Kong .

The move may facilitate settlement of disputes by clarifying legal consequences of making an apology. Before, officials and professionals in the city were sometimes said to be indifferent over, and escaped from, the responsibility of work-related disputes.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung revealed the government will submit the proposal to the legislature in this legislative year, which ends next July. That will make Hong Kong the first Asian jurisdiction to embrace a law of such kind.

Before, officials and professionals in the city were sometimes said to be indifferent over, and escaped from, the responsibility of work-related disputes

Yuen hoped by such a move Hong Kong will speed up its pursuit of becoming a world arbitration center.

Judicial exceptions are made to proceedings under the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance (Cap 86), the Coroners Ordinance (Cap 504) and the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap 390). When defendants are facing charges over those ordinances, the apology law will not be applied.

Meanwhile, factual information conveyed in an apology should likewise be protected by the legislation, and the court or tribunal in applicable proceedings should retain discretion to admit such statements of fact as evidence against the apology maker when it is just and equitable to do so.

Further, a mechanism should be included in the draft apology bill to allow future amendments to be made to the schedule of excepted proceedings so as to allow flexibility, according to the report.

Legislator and solicitor Holden Chow Ho-ding questioned whether there is still a possibility that if factual statements can be used as evidence in court, people will choose not to make such an apology.

READ MORE: Apology law edges closer

Yuen said the report made the reservation to protect victims' rights. When judges think it deprives them of their rights during legal proceedings if they do not take the factual information as evidence, they have the power to decide on this.

Apology laws exist in a number of common law jurisdictions. In Canada, doctors hail the law as an assurance for them to say sorry to patients when errors happen. The law is seen to have facilitated dispute resolution and prevented minor ones from going to courts.

In the United States, legal proceedings over medical accident disputes dropped significantly. In 2002, the University of Michigan's University Hospital saw legal challenges to it fall from 262 in 2001 to 130. Legal costs also dropped from US$3 million a year to US$1 million.

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