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The Legal System in Hong Kong Is Very Much the Same Before and After the Change of Sovereignty

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The statement “The legal system in Hong Kong is very much the same before and after the change of sovereignty” is not all correct.

On 30 June 1997, the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China marked a significant change in the status of Hong Kong. From its position as a colony of the United Kingdom, it has now become a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong contains the agreement reached between the PRC and the United Kingdom concerning Hong Kong’s future. The Joint Declaration was ratified by the respective governments in 1985. It provided that from 1 July 1997, Hong Kong was to be restored to Chinese sovereignty and be largely self-governing. It also stated that the laws previously in force are to remain unchanged unless they are in conflict with the Basic Law, or unless amended by the HKSAR legislature. This is in accordance with the so-called “one country, two systems” principle. The principles of the Joint Declaration are enshrined in the Basic Law, which is Hong Kong’s “mini-constitution”.

Article 5 of the Basic Law provides that “socialist systems and policies shall not be practiced in the HKSAR and that the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.” The common law legal system governing Hong Kong will therefore remain fundamentally unchanged well into the twenty-first century.

Article 8 of the Basic Law also states that: “The laws previously in force in Hong Kong, that is, the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation and customary law shall be maintained, except for any that contravene this law, and subject to any amendment by the legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

Further, Article 18 states that: “The laws in force in...

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