A six-week consultation on “apology legislation” was launched by government on 22 June. The proposed law aims to promote the making of public apologies by clarifying their legal consequences, and has been winning the support of lawmakers and legal professionals.

According to the Department of Justice, the objective of the apology legislation is to “facilitate the amicable settlement of disputes” and prevent situations where “an apology may be relied on to establish liability” in legal proceedings. The proposed legislation would also apply to government officials.

Dennis Kwok Wing-hang
Dennis Kwok Wing-hang. Photo: Wikicommons.

Legislative councillor Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, LegCo representative for the Legal functional constituency, threw his support behind the legislation.

“Defendants usually refrain from apologising as this may affect their legal rights,” Kwok explained. “However, the plaintiff may simply be asking for an apology so they could continue proceedings through mediation.” 

Referring to apology legislations enacted in other jurisdictions, Kwok added that its enactment would not be prejudiced against the plaintiff.

The legislation proposed in Hong Kong would cover full apologies, which means that a party would not be liable even if he admits of a fault or responsibility. The Department of Justice referred to apology legislation in 56 jurisdictions for its consultation paper.

The consultation was launched by the Steering Committee on Mediation, following the delayed official apology in response to the 2012 Lamma Island ferry collision in which 39 passengers died.

lamma island collision
Ship damaged by the Lamma Island Collision in 2012. Photo: Wikicommons.

Francis Liu Hon-por, then Marine Department chief, only apologised eight months after the incident, explaining he needed to seek legal advice before making an official apology.

Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun said that the government would “benefit most” from the legislation. According to Apple Daily, To, who assisted victims’ families during the aftermath of the Lamma ferry disaster, said that the government’s willingness to apologise shows “accountability and credibility in modern society”.

Paul Benedict Lee is an undergraduate law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Paul has previously contributed to HK Magazine and Radio Television Hong Kong, covering issues ranging from local heritage conservation to arts features. He has also worked as a legal intern at local human rights firm Daly & Associates.