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Deputy Secretary for Justice Cheung Kwok-kwan began his Europe visit programme in Rome, Italy, to strengthen the collaborative relationship between Hong Kong and the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT). Mr Cheung first called on Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China to the Republic of Italy Jia Guide. He thanked the embassy for its long-standing support for the Department of Justice (DoJ) in seeking more international legal and dispute resolution institutions to set up offices in Hong Kong. He added that as the only common law jurisdiction, Hong Kong would proactively assist in the country's foreign-related legal affairs. Mr Cheung then met Secretary-General of UNIDROIT Prof Ignacio Tirado and the organisation’s management to discuss more collaboration opportunities between the institute and Hong Kong. Both sides deliberated on the possible theme of the 2024 Asia-Pacific Private International Law Summit, such as digital assets. During the meeting, they discussed about deepening collaboration between UNIDROIT and Hong Kong, including having agreed to explore the setting up of a liaison office in Hong Kong, which will help the institute to promote its work in the Asia-Pacific region on the one hand, and further enhance the city's status as the centre for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region on the other. Later in the day, Mr Cheung attended a conference co-organised by UNIDROIT and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the Republic of Italy for local businesses and legal communities on promoting cross-border investment through transnational legal standards. While delivering a keynote speech at the conference, Mr Cheung emphasised that Hong Kong will fully leverage its unique advantages of enjoying the strong support of the motherland and being closely connected to the world under “one country, two systems” in better integrating into the country's overall development. He also highlighted Hong Kong's strong legal foundation and institutional advantages which would facilitate international investment and trade. Moreover, Mr Cheung briefed the participants on the latest situation of the implementation of the National Security Law in the city, particularly on how it has restored social order and safety, and provided better protection to foreign enterprises. He said he was pleased to learn that other speakers invited by UNIDROIT, including representatives of local business sectors, expressed confidence in Hong Kong's rule of law and spoke highly of its legal system which is conducive to trade development. Mr Cheung also seized the opportunity to try to persuade several international law interns of UNIDROIT who were being trained there to come and work in Hong Kong after completing their studies. He received an encouraging response. UNIDROIT aims to modernise, harmonise and co-ordinate private and in particular commercial law between states and to formulate uniform law instruments, principles and rules for such purposes. The memorandum of understanding signed between UNIDROIT and the DoJ last year laid a strong foundation for further collaboration in the area of private international law. Mr Cheung will depart for Vienna, Austria, today to continue his visit.
Deputy Secretary for Justice Cheung Kwok-kwan will depart for Europe on March 5 to visit Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands for meetings with three prominent private international law organisations. The organisations include the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law, the Hague Conference on Private International Law and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, which are all headquartered in Europe. The visit aims to foster closer connections and collaboration as well as consolidate Hong Kong’s status as the centre for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region. Mr Cheung will attend and speak at a number of conferences and receptions. He will also meet the leaders of international organisations and prominent political and business figures to introduce Hong Kong’s robust legal system and rule of law situation as well as update them on the city’s latest legal developments with the unique advantages under “one country, two systems”, and tell the good stories of Hong Kong. Mr Cheung will conclude his visit at The Hague on March 11 and return to Hong Kong the next morning.
The Customs & Excise Department has flexibly deployed its manpower to overcome the challenge of low recruitment recently. Commissioner of Customs & Excise Louise Ho made the remarks this morning during a press conference held to review the work of the department in 2022. Ms Ho made it clear that the department has taken steps to improve the issue of insufficient manpower. “Regarding the manpower situation, the fact is in the recruitment exercises of recent years, we found that the number of applications has decreased a bit. “In order to address the impact on our manpower deployment, we have flexibly deployed our manpower resources to our priority areas of concern. “And also, on our special projects, we have recruited experienced officers, who have retired, to return to the department to provide support for some special projects.” Ms Ho added that the department has boosted its recruitment publicity through various channels. “We have also enhanced our publicity efforts, locally and on the Mainland, by targeting students in the universities, to attract them to come to Hong Kong and make applications to the Customs & Excise Department and join our family.”
The Penny's Bay Community Isolation Facility closed its doors today after fully accomplishing its vital anti-epidemic mission. Speaking at the closing ceremony today, Under Secretary for Security Michael Cheuk explained that the Penny’s Bay site was initially a quarantine facility for close contacts of COVID-19 patients and subsequently used to accommodate those who caught the virus. A total of 270,000 people spent time in the camp since it opened in July 2020. The facility was also used for other purposes, such as a special examination centre for students sitting the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination and a polling station for the Chief Executive Election, the Village Representative Election, and the Legislative Council General Election. Mr Cheuk thanked relevant government departments and workers who operated and maintained the site in an effort to achieve the goal of providing critical shelter for people in need.
The Government announced today the expansion of a pilot scheme for two years starting March 1, to continue providing facilitation for non-Hong Kong residents participating in arbitral proceedings in the city on a short-term basis. The scope of the scheme is also expanded to cover all visitors, including those who require a visit visa or entry permit to enter Hong Kong and residents of the Mainland, Macau and Taiwan. Under the scheme launched in June 2020, nationals of countries who may visit Hong Kong visa-free and possess a letter of proof are allowed to take part in arbitral proceedings in the city as visitors, without the need to obtain an employment visa. The scheme covers four categories of visa-free nationals: arbitrators, expert and factual witnesses, arbitration counsel and parties to the arbitration. The duration that they may stay in Hong Kong for arbitral proceedings shall not exceed the current visa-free period for a visit. The scheme is to be reviewed in two years’ time. Upon review, the scope of the pilot scheme is now expanded to also cover eligible people who are visa-required nationals as well as Mainland, Macau and Taiwan residents. For the avoidance of doubt, such people are still required to apply for the requisite visit visa or entry permit in order to enter Hong Kong. They are permitted to stay in the city for arbitral proceedings for a period not exceeding that for which they are permitted to remain in Hong Kong as a visitor. People who seek to benefit from the pilot scheme shall, prior to their entry into Hong Kong, obtain a letter of proof that confirms they are eligible to participate in arbitral proceedings in Hong Kong.
The Steering Committee on Rule of Law Education chaired by Secretary for Justice Paul Lam held its first meeting today, during which it endorsed its terms of reference and the preliminary framework of the Rule of Law Education Train-the-Trainers Programme. Mr Lam expressed his gratitude to representatives from relevant bureaus, the judicial and legal sectors as well as law schools for joining the committee to assist and advise on the co-ordination and collaboration of the work on promoting rule of law education in Hong Kong. At the meeting, the members agreed to set up two working groups, to be chaired by Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal Patrick Chan and Legislative Council member Carmen Kan respectively, to follow up on the design of the programme's curriculum and teaching materials as well as relevant co-ordination and collaboration work. The programme aims to nuture trainers in various sectors of the community and enhance their capability of and effectiveness in passing on correct messages of the rule of law to others, thereby promoting rule of law education on all fronts. The curriculum and teaching materials will be developed with a focus on the rule of law. Fundamental topics related to Hong Kong's rule of law and legal system under the principle of "one country, two systems", covering the Constitution, the Basic Law, the National Security Law, the Mainland's legal system and basic elements of Hong Kong's common law system will be taught in an easy-to-understand manner. Mr Lam said the committee will spare no effort to take forward and launch the programme as soon as possible, so as to promote consistent and correct messages on the rule of law in different sectors of the community, foster the public's self-consciousness to uphold the rule of law and jointly tell good stories of Hong Kong's rule of law.
The Immigration Department today announced that apart from the Top Talent Pass Scheme (TTPS), applicants for other talent admission schemes will also be required to declare whether they have any criminal convictions during the application process starting tomorrow. The schemes include the General Employment Policy, Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents & Professionals, Technology Talent Admission Scheme, Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates as well as Admission Scheme for the Second Generation of Chinese Hong Kong Permanent Residents. The department said it has all along been assessing each application for visa/entry permits in a rigorous manner, adding that it will adjust from time to time the application procedures and information required. The adjustment to the application procedures of the TTPS took effect on February 22.
Eighty citizens who assisted Police in fighting crime and maintaining law and order were commended at the Good Citizen Award (GCA) 2022 & 50th Anniversary Presentation Ceremony today. Separately, seven organisations were presented the Good Organisation Award to recognise their efforts in supporting the force's crime prevention works. Police said the GCA awardees helped prevent or detect cases including theft, fraud and indecent assault. There were also some who made their contributions in life-saving. Debby Kong, the recipient of the Good Citizen of the Year Award, saved a girl who accidentally fell into the sea when she was fishing. She also comforted the girl while waiting for Police to arrive on the scene, fully demonstrating her care and love. More than 4,500 citizens have been commended since the launch of the GCA scheme in 1973. Speaking at the ceremony, Commissioner of Police Siu Chak-yee said the scheme has been revamped over the past two years. He highlighted that the force brought together the GCA awardees to form a Good Citizen Alliance to promote the good citizen spirit in schools, organisations and the community. With inheritance as the theme this year, Mr Siu expressed the hope that the scheme could pass on the spirit to the future generations.
The Correctional Services Department, in its annual review today, said the average daily number of remands hit a decade high in 2022. At a press conference, the department said the average daily number of remands rose 15% from 2,316 in 2021 to 2,666 last year. The annual number of new admissions, including detainees, remands and convicted people, dropped 13% to 13,246 in 2022. The average daily penal population at correctional facilities in the year was 7,613, similar to the corresponding figure of 7,616 in 2021. The average daily occupancy rate remained at 67%. The department noted that as the number of adult male remands has been on the rise, it plans to partially redevelop Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre to increase its capacity by 410 places to alleviate the overcrowding problem. The project has been approved by the Town Planning Board and a funding proposal is expected to be submitted to the Legislative Council in mid-2023. Last year, the number of admissions to correctional institutions owing to involvement in offences relating to the black-clad violence and contravention of the National Security Law stood high at 829. Compared to 985 people in 2021, the number of the admissions dropped by 156. As at the end of last year, the number of those in custody involved in the black-clad violence or contravening the National Security Law was 522, an increase of 26% as compared with 415 people in 2021. Following the first COVID-19 infection of a person in custody during the fifth wave of the epidemic in early February last year, the virus spread quickly in correctional institutions. At the epidemic's peak in early March, 55% of those in custody were put under isolation and 17% of correctional officers were unable to report for duty. Having consulted the Centre for Health Protection, the department took measures including vacating Cape Collinson Correctional Institution, Sha Tsui Correctional Institution and Phoenix House, for use as temporary isolation facilities as well as setting up quarantine and isolation zones in correctional institutions to cope with the surging confirmed and close-contact cases. On its rehabilitation work, the department said a large number of radical lawbreakers involved in violent acts have been remanded or convicted since the outbreak of the black-clad violence in 2019."Project PATH" was then introduced to help them disengage from radical thoughts and violent behaviours. Dedicated case managers carried out regular assessments and provided a follow-up service to offer appropriate matching rehabilitation programmes to those in custody. As regards the department's application of innovation and technology, it highlighted that since the first-generation "Smart Prison" at Tai Tam Gap Correctional Institution came into operation in mid-2021, it has continued to conduct trials in individual institutions to strengthen the self-management ability of people in custody. Trial projects with the application of innotech introduced last year included the "Robotic Monitoring System 2.0" at Shek Pik Prison, "Persons in Custody e-Message Platform" at Stanley Prison and "Contactless Vital Sign Detection System" at Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre. Funding was secured from LegCo's Finance Committee in early 2022 for the installation of the "Persons in Custody Integrated Intelligent Communication System" in correctional institutions. When the system is in full operation, the efficiency of institutional operations and management will be enhanced, while the link between those in custody and their friends and relatives will be strengthened, which is conducive to their rehabilitation. Looking forward, the department will continue to introduce new initiatives in custodial work, rehabilitation and community education. About 80 correctional officers are expected to be recruited this year, while the year-round recruitment for assistant officers will continue, it added.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan today said the Government will provide additional funding to further assist Hong Kong enterprises and investors in opening up markets. Delivering his Budget, Mr Chan stressed that in support of the Belt & Road Initiative, Hong Kong will explore and tap emerging markets such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa while maintaining ties with the European and American markets. The Government will provide additional funding of $550 million to the Trade Development Council in the five financial years starting from 2023‑24. Mr Chan explained that such funding aims to help Hong Kong enterprises seize opportunities arising from the Belt & Road Initiative and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development and tap into emerging markets as well as step up global promotional efforts. The Financial Secretary also proposed to further inject $500 million into the Dedicated Fund on Branding, Upgrading & Domestic Sales (BUD Fund) and launch BUD Easy to expedite the processing of applications, enabling more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to make use of the funding to develop their business. Additionally, the Government will allocate $100 million to the Productivity Council to strengthen assistance for SMEs in applying for government subsidies. Mr Chan highlighted that the National 14th Five‑Year Plan supports Hong Kong to develop into a regional intellectual property trading centre. To encourage the innovation and technology sector to forge ahead with more research and development (R&D) activities and create more patented inventions with market potential, the Government will introduce a “patent box” tax incentive to provide tax concessions for profits sourced in Hong Kong from qualifying patents generated through R&D activities. The Government will consult the trade on the “patent box” tax arrangements within this year and formulate a competitive concessionary tax rate applicable to Hong Kong. Its target is to submit the legislative amendments to the Legislative Council in the first half of 2024. Meanwhile, the Government will provide additional funding totalling $10 million to the Intellectual Property Department in the next two years for employing and nurturing its patent examiners as well as progressively developing a talent pool, with a view to acquiring institutional autonomy in conducting substantive patent examination by 2030. The finance chief added that the Government will continue to strive to consolidate the strategic positioning of Hong Kong as a centre for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region under the National 14th Five Year Plan. The Department of Justice will seek to establish and promote the use of a common online mediation platform for dispute resolution in the Greater Bay Area, with a view to providing a more convenient, efficient and cost‑effective means for people and businesses in the bay area to settle cross‑boundary disputes online.