What Does It Mean To Say Sorry? Hong Kong's Apology Law

Author:Ms Mun Yeow and Simon McConnell
Profession:Clyde & Co

Following the passing of the Apology Bill on 13 July this year, Hong Kong has become the first jurisdiction in Asia to enact apology legislation.

The objective of the new Apology Ordinance ("the Law"), first considered in the wake of Hong Kong's Lamma Ferry disaster in 2012, is to "promote and encourage the making of apologies with a view to preventing the escalation of disputes and facilitating their amicable resolution". Importantly, the effect is that an apology will not "constitute an express or implied admission of the person's fault or liability in connection with the matter, and must not be taken into account in determining fault, liability or any other issue in connection with the matter to the prejudice of the person". This is very different from the current position where an apology may be admissible as evidence in civil proceedings for establishing legal liability.

An apology is an expression (whether oral, written or by conduct) of the person's regret, sympathy or benevolence in connection with the matter. For example:

In a mobile phone product recall, directors and senior management would be able to apologise and provide refunds to the customers in a timely manner as a gesture of goodwill Directors and senior management of a company can offer an apology in a timely manner for any mis-selling of a financial product If a lawyer negligently provides a wrong legal advice, the lawyer can apologise almost immediately to the client and suggest remedies for the problem The Law applies to an apology made by a person on or after the commencement date of the Law (1 December 2017) regardless of whether the matter arose before, on or after that date, or applicable proceedings concerning the matter began before, on or after that date. Thus, the Law does not have retrospective effect in relation to apologies made before its commencement date.

Applicable proceedings include judicial, arbitral, administrative, disciplinary and regulatory proceedings. The Law does not extend to criminal proceedings, the rationale being that criminal proceedings are not private proceedings and cannot be settled between parties; they are proceedings commenced by law enforcement authorities for the protection of the public.

The Law does not apply to:

An apology made by a person in a document filed or submitted in applicable proceedings; An apology made by a...

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