On 13 July 2017, the Hong Kong Legislative Council passed the Apology Bill, with the object of “promoting and encouraging the making of apologies with a view to preventing the escalation of disputes and facilitating amicable resolution.”
The Apology Bill is the first of its kind in Asian jurisdictions, consisting of 13 clauses and a schedule, and will be applicable to apologies made by a person (or those made on behalf of the person) on or after the commencement date of the Ordinance.
The Definition of an Apology and the Applicable Proceedings
Under the new law, evidence of an apology will not generally be admissible for determination of issues in any Applicable Proceedings, subject to certain exceptions. In practical terms, an apology will not be treated as admission of any fault or liability, or used against him in determining other issues (such as appropriate remedies or issues of credibility) in a defined set of Applicable Proceedings, i.e. judicial, arbitral, administrative, disciplinary, regulatory proceedings or any other proceedings conducted under an enactment.
An apology is defined as “an expression of the person’s regret, sympathy or benevolence in connection with the matter” made orally, in writing or by conduct, and typically includes an expression that “the person is sorry about the matter”. Significantly, the apology also includes any part of the expression that is an express or implied admission of the person’s fault or liability or a statement of fact in connection with the matter.
The new law would not apply to criminal proceedings, proceedings of the Legislative Council and other proceedings conducted under the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance, the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance and the Coroners Ordinance.
An apology would also be admissible with the apology maker’s consent. The Court is also vested with the discretion to admit a statement of fact contained in an apology in an exceptional case, and only if it is just and equitable to do so, having regard to the public interest or the interests of the administration of justice.
Implications in other areas
An apology is precluded from constituting an acknowledgment of rights and hence would not extend the relevant limitation period of certain rights of action relating to land, personal property, debts and other claims.
Finally, in order to alleviate the concern of any adverse effect on insurance covers by apologies where some insurance contracts may contain provisions that prohibit the admission of fault by the insured without the insurer’s consent, the new law also provides that a person’s apology would not affect any insurance cover, compensation or other form of benefit under a contract of insurance or indemnity.
We anticipate that with the introduction of the Apology Ordinance, the concerns of making apologies can be alleviated and hence this would prevent escalation of disputes and encourage reaching an amicable resolution.
Should you have any enquiries to the bill, please contact our partner Ms. Heidi Chui for more details.