The second round of public consultation on proposed “apology laws” for Hong Kong began on Monday and will last for six weeks, the Steering Committee on Mediation has announced.

The government said that the legislation “is to promote and encourage the making of apologies in order to facilitate the amicable settlement of disputes by clarifying the legal consequences of making an apology”.

In short, the law would allow parties to apologise without necessarily admitting liability. Similar legislation has been enacted in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia.

A total of 75 written submissions were received in the first round of public consultation, the majority of which were supportive of the idea.

Steering committee member Wong Kwok-ying. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The committee, which is headed by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, recommended enacting an apology law that would apply to the government and cover civil as well as non-criminal proceedings. It further suggested that, under the law, an apology made would not mean admitting liability; it would also not affect any insurance or indemnity that the person making the apology would be entitled to.

Exemptions and protections 

Currently, the committee is seeking views on what proceedings the law should not apply to, and whether the factual information provided in an apology should be protected by the proposed law.

At the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services meeting on Monday, Yuen cited a US study and said that – in cases of medical blunders – the family of the victims view an apology as the most important factor, with compensation being only fourth on the list. Yuen said that there has been a case of a doctor developing psychological problems because he wanted to apologise but could not do so due to objections from the hospital and the insurance company, Oriental Daily reported.

Steering Committee on Mediation member Wong Kwok-ying said that the legislation aims to allow those making apologies to unburden themselves without having to fear future consequences.

The Lamma Island Collision in 2012. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The initial consultation was prompted by the belated official apology in response to the 2012 Lamma Island ferry collision in which 39 passengers died. Francis Liu Hon-por, then Marine Department chief, only apologised eight months after the incident, explaining he first needed to seek legal advice.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.