The year in review
As mentioned above, the implementation of a class action regime in Hong Kong has stalled of late. In May 2012, the DOJ set up a cross-sector working group chaired by the Solicitor General (and an associated subcommittee) to study the LRC's class action proposals and to make recommendations to the Hong Kong government. As at the end of September 2018, the working group has held 23 meetings and its subcommittee has held 28 meetings but neither have yet given their recommendations.
Despite the proposal to make funding available to consumer-claims class action litigants, there is no concrete plan or legislation to implement the proposal. The reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Dr Bernard Chan, to the Honourable Mr Holden Chow, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, stated that so far there have been eight applications with similar causes of action and the Fund arranged for the cases to be heard at the same time. However, in the absence of a class action regime, none of the cases assisted by the Fund is a class action case.
Recent events in Hong Kong have highlighted the need for Hong Kong to have a more developed legal mechanism for class actions. For example, following the discovery in 2015 that drinking water in certain public housing estates was contaminated by heavy metals, a member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council wrote to the local media to suggest that a class action model would have been the most effective procedure for resolving claims from numerous affected occupants against the Housing Authority and responsible contractors.
In 2016, the gym chain California Fitness closed down all its outlets overnight and, as at time of writing, still owes approximately HK$20.8 million to nearly 27,000 former members, in the form of unused gym access fees and unredeemed training sessions. In the absence of a class actions regime, the prospect for these individuals to pursue their claims and be compensated remains bleak.
The introduction of a class action regime has also been linked to Hong Kong's recent push to safeguard against anticompetitive practices. Similar to victims in consumer claims, victims of anticompetitive practices may come in masses, all of whom claiming for a relatively small amount. Thus, the introduction of a class actions regime would likely be seen as positive developments aimed at promoting a fairer economy. While the Competition Ordinance has been in effect since late December 2015, the class action reform proposal continues to stall at the consultation stage. It remains a missed opportunity that the two complementary mechanisms are still not able to operate in tandem so as to allow victims of anticompetitive practices collective redress through a class action procedure.
There were no significant developments in 2018 for reforming Hong Kong's class action regime.