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Hong Kong legal system to go beyond 2047: Teresa Cheng

HONG KONG’S BRITISH-STYLE legal system will carry on past 2047, the city’s legal chief said yesterday. It will not switch to the civil law system used by mainland China and most countries around the world, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said last night.

“The ‘one country, two systems’ [policy] will continue, and with it, the application of the common law in Hong Kong—beyond 2047,” she told interviewer Nick Chan Hiu-fung on Friday Beyond Spotlights last night.

“It provides a very good system by which the international financial and business centers are being established and reinforced in Hong Kong,” she said.

Ms Cheng’s assurances echo that of the Hong Kong business community, which is making investments that stretch far beyond the 2047 border, and government departments, which are writing contracts such as land leases that go long beyond that date – not the maximum extent of the “one country, two systems” policy, but its minimum.

Hong Kong will “definitely” maintain the common law system beyond 2047, said Teresa Cheng, Secretary for Justice.


In common law systems, the rule of law is based on the whole body of judicial opinions and judgements around the world, contrasting with civil law systems, in which the law is based on a single published set of ordinances. The Basic Law allows Hong Kong judges to use judgements from any common law jurisdiction, from Australia to India to Singapore, for example.

The Central Government of mainland China has been extremely helpful in working with the Hong Kong legal sector to ensure that the rule of law continues in the city, Ms Cheng said.

On a more personal note, the Hong Kong’s legal chief revealed a surprising love of punk rock music. Her musical tastes depended on her mood, but stretched from punk to soothing jazz, she said.

Nick Chan Hiu-fung, a lawyer, interviewed Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah


Societies need to respect each other’s differences without interference, Ms Cheng said, pointing out that recognition of equality of states was not just politeness, but a matter of international law.

Hong Kong was hit with numerous sanctions during the US presidency of Donald Trump, effecting the community as a whole, as well as police officers and individuals in the city’s leadership.

“When people are doing things like imposing universal coercive measures like sanctions on certain countries or on certain people with a view to making them, or forcing them, to change their policy, that may well amount to an interference, and therefore a violation of that very important fundamental principle of international law,” Ms Cheng said.

Hong Kong has the top-rated legal system in Asia, and is ranked ahead of many in the West. Picture: Department of Justice


Ms Cheng was clearly proud of Hong Kong’s legal system, often internationally rated the best in Asia and one of the best globally. Based on the UK system, its upper layers of governance include top local judges, plus judges from other countries, to form a genuinely international operation. In recent years, Hong Kong has become a global hub for arbitration.

There are numerous unique aspects to Hong Kong’s legal system that makes it an unusually powerful tool for its citizens, Ms Cheng said. For example, there’s no limit on the cash available to a user of Hong Kong’s legal aid system.

“That’s a very unique thing. I haven’t come across other jurisdictions which are so insistent on ensuring access to justice,” she said. “So I think that’s something that really reinforces Hong Kong’s position in the rule of law practice.”


Many viewers were likely surprised by a personal revelation that Hong Kong’s top government law chief shared during the TV interview: she started her career as a civil engineer, and was working on a building site when she realized that she wanted to study law.

“I was working on a construction site in the morning, going to classes in the evenings and over the Easter and Christmas holidays, so it was hard work,” she said.

From civil engineer to the top of the legal ladder: picture by the Department of Justice

There was another issue: both professions, engineering and law, were dominated by men—which made it tough to climb the ladder.

Self-assurance is the key, she said. They may look down on women, but that should be ignored. “Whatever way people look at you, it doesn’t change you,” she said. “Confidence in oneself is very important – and of course, you have to know your stuff: that, I think, is a given.”

Nick Chan (below) asked why she left a comfortable, well-paid career as an arbitrator and lawyer to “jump into the hot kitchen” of the Hong Kong government, where she has faced constant criticism and more.

Nick Chan Hiu-fung

Ms Cheng said that she wanted to serve the community. And people have to stay strong in the face of unfair criticism. Young people should focus on the future, she said, encouraging young lawyers to work in international firms, and get qualified to work in the Greater Bay Area.

Working in male-dominated professions had only boosted her desire to succeed. “Never mind your gender, never mind what other people think – just go for it,” she said.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng was interviewed for Friday Beyond Spotlights. Season One of the show is hosted by Patrick Tsang On-yip, Vice-Chairman and Executive Director of i-Cable Communications and CEO and Director of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises; and Nick Chan Hiu-fung, a lawyer and elected lawmaker serving on the National People’s Congress.

You can watch the show at this links:

Part 1: Discussing Hong Kong legal issues

Part 2: A more personal chat

Image at the top is a collage incorporating elements from Dongsh and Anthony Yin from Unsplash

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