The Legal Systems

Hong Kong is a common law jurisdiction. This means that its legal system has its roots in case law that developed in England in the Middle Ages. The continued use of common law was one of the key principles when Britain and China made arrangements for the handover of sovereignty over Hong Kong. These arrangements were documented in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, and later codified in the Basic Law, which entered into force on July 1, 1997. The guiding principle for the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China is known as “one country, two systems”.

The Basic Law effectively serves as Hong Kong’s constitution. Hong Kong, along with Macao, has the status of a Chinese Special Administrative Region. This means that Chinese law, with some exceptions, shall not apply in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s special status under the Basic Law has been guaranteed until 2047. It appears that Beijing may expect Hong Kong’s role to continue unchanged beyond 2047*.

New statutory law in Hong Kong is made by the Legislative Council, based on proposals (bills) produced by the Chief Executive. In recent years, Hong Kong has for example introduced the following pieces of legislation in the commercial field: the Competition Ordinance (Cap 619) of 2012, the Companies Ordinance (Cap 622) of 2014, and the Sale of Goods (United Nations Convention) Ordinance (Cap 641) of 2021.

When it comes to the previously mentioned application of Chinese law in Hong Kong, apart from largely ceremonial legislation governing things like the national flag and the national anthem, one notable piece of legislation is the Law of the PRC on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR (also known as the National Security Law), which was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in 2020.

*Xi Jinping on “one country, two systems” in his speech in Hong Kong, on the occasion of the 25 th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, on July 1, 2022: “There is no reason for us to change such a good policy, and we must adhere to it in the long run.”