Hong Kong defends regional disputes crown

To maintain its status as a top disputes hub Hong Kong opens court access – a bit

Hong Kong’s decision to grant rights of audience in civil courts to foreign lawyers is meant to boost its attractiveness as a disputes hub in the international market, but that is not to say the accolade is handed out willy-nilly.

Of the 90 lawyers who sought higher rights from the Hong Kong Higher Rights Assessment Board just 15 (16.7 per cent) were approved, an indication of how high the bar has been set.

Successful candidates included Skadden Arps Meagher & Flom partner Paul Mitchard QC, who could claim to be among the world’s most prolific litigators. In London, Mitchard is best known for running the mammoth litigation team that served Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich in his $5bn (£3bn) battle with rival oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

He is joined by Sidley Austin international arbitration chair Yang Ing Loong, a leader in his field, and Mayer Brown’s Nicholas Hunsworth.

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In total, just 15 dispute resolution lawyers were granted dispensation to appear in front of the courts. Unsuccessful applicants have to go down the assessment route if they still want to become solicitor-advocates. This will start in the coming months.

From March, clients will have the option of instructing a barrister or a solicitor-advocate to argue their cases.

The grant of higher rights is a significant opportunity for Hong Kong- based solicitors. It is particularly welcomed by international firms, which have renewed their focus on litigation in Asia.

Yet for the local lawyers it is somewhat of a departure from tradition. Until a few years ago Hong Kong barristers were prohibited from handing out business cards unsolicited.

However, Hong Kong is in need of a radical change to remain a competitive international disputes resolution centre, particularly in light of Singapore’s recent move to make it easier for foreign senior counsel to appear in its courts on an ad hoc basis.