A novel method of service of HK court documents

A novel method to serve court documents by way of access to a data room to save costs, time and resources

20 November 2020 | by LexisNexis Hong Kong

Introduction

In Hwang Joon Sang & Anor v Golden Electronics Inc. & Ors [2020] HKCFI 1084, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance granted a new mode of ordinary service in accordance with the Rules of the High Court (“RHC”). Plaintiffs may now serve court documents by sharing such information in an online data room and providing the defendants with access to the data room. The court was satisfied that this way of service would be more convenient than in the form of the tradition method of serving hardcopies.

Facts

The plaintiffs asserted proprietary claims against the defendants over monies in bank accounts alleging that there were unauthorized transfers of such funds between the various defendants and were also retained by them.

The case involved multiple defendants. The original action began in 2019 with only 6 defendants. As litigation proceeded further, it was figured out that the funds had gone into other bank accounts. With regards to this discovery, the court located 22 more defendants of which 16 people were in Taiwan. In other words, there were 28 defendants in total.

In an action with so many defendants involved, there was a large volume of paperwork to be handled. Further, out of 13 of the 16 defendants in Taiwan, the documents served via the tradition method were inappropriately returned to the plaintiffs. As such, the plaintiff’s counsel suggested to the court for allowing them to serve court documents by way of access to a data room as this would save costs, time and resources.

Judgment

Coleman J permitted leave to the plaintiffs to serve related court documents on the defendants via a data room in the future. This novel service would be suitable and convenient for the below reasons and such practice was preferable over the traditional method of service. Further, certain RHC provisions set out the power/authority for Coleman J to adjudicate and follow.

The traditional method would obviously involve substantial expenses such as the use of time and paper in continued service of great volumes of hardcopy documents, with the importance of also seeking assistance from foreign agents/legal practitioners to effect that service. The large quantity of defendants already involved in this circumstance and the possibility that more defendants may involve in the future would incur greater/substantial legal costs. Coleman J also stated that it was not likely that banks would want to be overwhelmed with reams of paper in which only some might be relevant to them for their further handling.

The court held that the plaintiffs were permitted to create an online data room to serve future court documents on various defendants and that the plaintiff should send to the certain defendants by post and/or by email a link to access the data room and instructions to access the data.

The court acknowledged the fact that such novel method may not be feasible for all situations in later cases and so future courts should be motivated to consider alternative appropriate ways of service in other cases. Coleman J emphasized that parties who wish to use this new mode of service must first consult and obtain permission by the courts. In other words, existing court approved ways should be used before this novel method of service is exercised.

In earlier decisions, Coleman J had also allowed service using Facebook or WhatsApp Messenger for parties to send documents or to send links to the materials. The decision in this case further expanded the use of technology in modern day court practices.


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