Senior Partner Nick Gall and Senior Associate Felda Yeung at Gall are acting for the Plaintiff in Cyberworks Audio Video Technology Limited v Mei Ah (HK) Company Limited & Ors [2020] HKCFI 347, a case where the High Court conducted an unprecedented hearing via telephonic conference after the trial was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Faced with travel restrictions imposed on one of the key witnesses for the long trial, Gall proactively sought the Defendants’ consent to allow this witness to give evidence via video link and then applied to the Honourable Mr. Justice Coleman for such directions. Gall’s use of electronic trial bundles facilitated the telephone directions hearing and enabled the overseas witness to readily have access to the trial bundles when he gave evidence via video link. The team at Gall also wrote to the Judge asking to provide submissions via email which the Judiciary proceeded to roll out.

In light of the General Adjournment Period (the “GAP”) and disruptions to Court services, Coleman J determined that a directions hearing can, and should, be conducted by telephone for case management purposes. Coleman J found that such an arrangement is not contrary to statutory provisions and is facilitative of the Civil Justice Reform’s pursuit of cost-effective, procedurally economic, and expeditious dispute resolution. Coleman J also considered how directions hearings are often held by telephone in commercial arbitrations.

Commenting on this innovative new approach to hearing cases, Nick Gall said: “We are thrilled to be advising on this case which marks Hong Kong’s first-ever telephonic court hearing. We continue to experience unprecedented challenges every day as a result of the current public health crisis and to be involved in finding suitable solutions for our clients which ultimately help modernise the Judiciary is both rewarding and critical”.

This decision was the latest addition to the ranks of incoming changes seeking to modernise the city’s dispute resolution landscape and Judiciary. The imminent launch of the eBRAM Online Dispute Resolution platform, for instance, is anticipated to help digitalise commercial dispute resolution and deal-making by doing away with the need for physical meetings and travelling. The Court Proceedings (Electronic Technology) Bill, which was introduced into the Legislative Council for its first reading on 8 January 2020, seeks to implement the practice of filing and sending Court related documents through electronic means, taking us one step closer to a paperless Judiciary.

At least a decade has passed since the Civil Justice Reform was implemented, and as Coleman J remarked, the GAP and the COVID-19 outbreak is an opportunity for the Court and stakeholders to reconsider how cases can be more effectively managed in the future.

The case is a welcome move from the Judiciary and confirms the need to continue to strive for greater use of technology in dispute resolution for maximum cost-effectiveness and procedural economy. The helpful guidance provided by Coleman J on the practicalities of case management in the context of the GAP will remain beneficial long after the end of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Click here for the judgement.

Click here for a recent news article on the telephonic court hearing.