The District Court has both criminal and civil jurisdiction.
The District Court deals with indictable offences
transferred to it from the Magistrates' Court. Indictable
offences are criminal offences triable on indictment
before a Judge alone or with a jury. A District Court
Judge sits alone without a jury.
The District Court may try all serious criminal cases
except murder, manslaughter and rape. The maximum term
of imprisonment it can impose is 7 years.
IIf the accused pleads guilty, the Court will hear
any mitigation and pass sentence on the same day unless
the Court orders various reports to be sought. If so,
the Court will adjourn the case to another date for
sentence. If the accused pleads not guilty, the Court
will fix a date for trial if the case is ready.
An accused can choose to act in person or, much more
commonly, to engage a lawyer. If the services of a legal
practitioner in private practice are beyond his means,
an accused may seek legal aid. Those accused who act
in person need to prepare their case very carefully
before trial. This includes the summoning of their witnesses,
if any, and they may approach the District Court Registry
to obtain the form for summoning witnesses.
The trial judge has the final decision as to whether
a case is conducted in Chinese or English.
An accused on bail or in custody can apply for legal
aid. Those on bail may apply direct to the Director
of Legal Aid, 24/F, Queensway Government Offices, 66
Queensway, Hong Kong (Tel: 2537 7677). Those in custody
should contact the Welfare Officer in the institution
where they are being held.
If an accused is not satisfied with the Court's decision,
an appeal may be made to the Court of Appeal of the
High Court within 28 days from the date of sentence.
For further information, please contact the District
Such an appeal may be against conviction, or sentence,
or against both conviction and sentence. While an appeal
against sentence may result in the sentence being reduced,
it should be noted that the Court of Appeal of the High
Court may also increase the sentence.
The Court of Appeal may dismiss or allow the appeal.
If either party is still not satisfied with the decision
of the Court of Appeal, an application for leave to
appeal to the Court of Final Appeal may be lodged.
The most common types of civil action that the District
Court deals with are:
- tort (including personal injuries claims)
- recovery of land or premises
- claims in equity such as administration of estate
of a deceased person, trust, mortgage, specific performance,
maintenance of infant, dissolution of partnership,
relief against fraud or mistake
- employees' compensation cases (there is no limit
on the amount claimed)
- sex discrimination, disability and family status
- matrimonial cases including divorce, maintenance,
custody and adoption of children (the Court which
handles these types of cases is also known as the
For a contract, quasi-contract or tort claim to be
handled by the District Court rather than the Court
of First Instance of the High Court, it must be for
an amount over $50,000 but not more than $1 million.
Even where your claim does not exceed $1 million, if
the defendant counterclaims for over $1 million, the
claim and the counterclaim or just the counterclaim
may be transferred to the Court of First Instance of
the High Court. For good reasons, the District Court
may continue to handle the claim when the counterclaim
exceeds $1 million, but a report has to be made to the
High Court and the High Court may transfer the case.
Note that if your claim exceeds $1 million, you may
still start the action in the District Court provided
you abandon the excess. [Equally, if the counterclaim
exceeds $1 million, you may waive the excess.] This
can be a very practical strategy when the excess is
small, since the litigation cost at the Court of First
Instance is usually higher than that of the District
The District Court deals with buildings or premises
the annual rent or rateable value or the annual value
of which does not exceed $240,000. However, in most
tenancy cases where possession of the premises is claimed
when the terms of the tenancy has expired, or when the
tenant is in breach of the terms of the tenancy, application
for possession may also be issued in the Lands Tribunal.
- where proceedings do not relate to land, the maximum
value involved shall not exceed $1 million
- where proceedings do relate to land, the maximum
value involved shall not exceed $3 million; and further,
for proceedings for the recovery of land or relating
to the title to land, the rateable value of the land
must not exceed $240,000
If you merely want to recover arrears of rent and not
the possession of the premises, there is a special procedure
known as "distress", whereby the Court makes an order
directing the goods of the tenant to be seized by the
bailiff. If the tenant still fails to pay the rent,
the goods will be sold and the proceeds applied towards
the outstanding rent.
The application form and pro forma affidavit can be
obtained from the District Court Registry. You can complete
the preliminary procedure by returning the completed
forms to the District Court Registry. The Court will
inform you when execution has been levied.
However, if you are claiming more than 12 months'
rent, you cannot use the distress procedure. Use instead
the normal procedure for suing for breach of contract.
There are three ways for you to start a civil action:
- engage a lawyer
- seek legal aid (for details please refer to the
to apply for legal aid in civil cases" pamphlet
which is available at all courts, the Legal Aid Department
and Public Enquiry Service Centres of District Offices)
- do it yourself
Note that certain types of individual, e.g. infants,
mentally disabled persons and the estate of a deceased
person, can commence an action only by an appropriate
representative. A corporation may either be represented
by a solicitor or by one of its directors by filing
an affidavit stating that he has been duly authorized
by the board of directors and exhibiting either original
or certified board’s resolution.
Civil actions in the District Court can be commenced
in one of the following modes:
- Writ of summons
- Originating summons
The relevant forms can be found in Appendix A of the
of the District Court, Chapter 336 of the Laws of
Since the most common mode for commencing an action
is the Writ of Summons, this is outlined below.
A writ of summons (Form
No.1) must be used to commence an action based on
contract, quasi-contract, tort (other than trespass
to land), fraud, breach of duty where the damages consist
of or include damages for death of or personal injuries
to any person, or in respect of damage to property and
generally for all actions which would involve a substantial
dispute of facts.
&If the only claim that you are making is for payment of money, a Form 16 (for a liquidated claim, e.g. a debt) or Form 16C (for an unliquidated claim, e.g. damages for breach of contract or personal injuries) for admission of your claim should accompany your writ.
A writ of summons (Form
No.1) and the accompanying acknowledgement of service(Form
No.14) can be obtained at the District Court Registry.
Fill out Form No. 1, setting out an endorsement of claim,
e.g. a concise statement of the nature of your claim,
or a statement of claim setting out in details the legal
basis of your claim together with the facts you are
relying on and the relief and remedy you are claiming.
Forms can be completed in Chinese or English. (If you
only attach an endorsement of claim, a statement of
claim has to be filed and served on the defendant within
14 days after the defendant has acknowledged service.)
You have to verify the statement of claim with a statement
of truth in accordance with Order 41A of the Rules of
the District Court.
When you file the Writ, you will be asked to pay a
filing fee at the Accounts Office of the District Court.
You will then return the completed forms to the Registry.
One copy of the form will be returned to you for reference.
It is your responsibility to serve the writ, acknowledgement
of service and Form 16 or Form 16C (if applicable) on
the defendant. If the defendant is in Hong Kong, this
can be done by personal service, by registered post,
or by inserting the documents through the letter box
of the defendant at his usual or last known address
(or, in the case of a corporation, on the registered
address). In an action for recovery of possession of
land, you must also post up a copy of the writ at the
entrance of the premises in question. (Please see the
"Bailiff Section" booklet
regarding action for recovery of possession of land.)
When the defendant is served with the writ (Form No.
1) and the acknowledgement of service (Form
14), he or she must fill in Form No. 14 to indicate
if he or she wishes to defend the action and file it
with the Registry within 14 days after service of the
Writ (including the day of service).
Any defence must be filed with the court and served
on you within 28 days after the time limit for acknowledgement
of service expires. The defendant must explain in his
defence why the defendant is disputing your claim and
may include a counterclaim against you. The defence
must be verified by a statement of truth in accordance
with Order 41A of the Rules of the District Court.
If the defendant does not file Form No. 14 or a defence within time, you can apply to the Court for judgment on your claim. In such a case, a full trial is not required.
You may enter judgment for the amount claimed and costs,
if the claim is for debt or for liquidated damages,
e.g. where the amount of the claim is fixed and ascertainable,
for example, action on a cheque.
Interlocutory judgment on liability may be entered
instead if you are claiming for unliquidated damages,
for example, for loss of profits or damages for injury
to person or property. In this case you will have to
ask a master or a judge to assess the amount of damages
you are entitled to.
Under Order 13A of the Rules of District Court, if
you are only claiming for the payment of money, the
defendant may make an admission and/or propose terms
of payment by filing in Court a Form 16 or Form 16C
as may be appropriate and serve a copy of the same on
you. You may file a request for judgment or reply (see
Form 16B, 16D and 16E) to indicate if you accept the
offer and the terms of payment as proposed by the defendant.
If you accept the offer but do not agree to the terms
of payment, you may request a master to determine the
terms of payment.
However, if you do not file a request for judgment
or reply within 14 days after a copy of the admission
form served on you, the claim is stayed until you file
the request or reply.
As plaintiff, you may file with the court and serve on the defendant a reply to any defence filed by him within 28 days after service on you of the defence, and set out additional facts in answer to it.
If the defendant files a counterclaim, you will have to file and serve a defence to it within 28 days after the service on you of the counterclaim if you wish to dispute it. The defendant can enter judgment in default of defence to the counterclaim if you fail to do so within time. As far as the counterclaim is concerned, you have become a defendant.
There are no prescribed forms for a reply or defence to a counterclaim, but you should combine the reply and any defence to the counterclaim in one single document. The document has to be verified by a statement of truth in accordance with Order 41A of the Rules of the District Court.
The pleadings stage will then be complete. Next comes
“discovery”, when each side must disclose to the other
the documents he possesses that relate to the case.
After disclosing the documents in the form of a list
(Forms No. 26 and 27), both sides must allow the other
side to inspect the actual documents.
Each party shall file and serve a timetabling questionnaire
within 28 days after the pleadings stage is complete.
You should try to agree with the other party (parties)
on what directions to seek to prepare a case for trial.
As plaintiff, you must, within 14 days after receiving
the timetabling questionnaire from the other party (parties)
or within 14 days upon expiry of the period for filing
and serving a timetabling questionnaire, issue a case
management summons for the court to give directions
relating to the management of the case.
The court will fix a timetable for the steps to be
taken and may fix a milestone date for a case management
conference, pre-trial review and/or the trial. You should
comply with the directions as you may not be able to
get extensions of time without sufficient grounds. In
addition, you should attend court on the milestone dates,
otherwise your claim will be struck out.
After the Court has given directions for setting down,
you should file with the Court an application to set
a case down for trial and a notification of setting
down. In so doing, you have to pay a prescribed fee.
Besides, a bundle of documents has to be lodged.
For cases in the Fixture List both parties should
attend before the Listing Officer on the date scheduled
for date fixing. The Listing Officer will then list
the case for trial in accordance with the directions
given by the Master. After date fixing, the pre-trial
procedure is then complete and parties should bear the
trial date in mind and wait for trial.
For cases set down in the Running List, they will
be placed initially on the Pending List and then Warned
List. Once a case has been set down the title of the
action and its action number will appear at the bottom
of the Pending List if it is expected to be tried during
the next succeeding month. The cases will be tried by
judges who are found available to try them one after
another generally in accordance with the order set out
in the Pending List. Parties have to check the Pending
List on the last day of each month to see if their case
has been listed on it. Once the case is listed on the
Pending List, they have to check the Warned List every
Wednesday. This is because every Wednesday a number
of cases from the Pending List will be warned that they
will likely to be called and tried in the next week
and they are put in a separate list called the Warned
List. Once a case is listed on the Warned List, parties
are required to check the Warned List every day whether
their case is fixed to be tried the next day.
The Pending List is posted on the Notice Board on
the ground floor of the District Court next to the daily
cause list and on the 6th floor of the District Court
in the Notice Board outside the Registry. The Warned
List is posted on the Daily Notice Boards on the ground
floor and the 6th floor of the District Court. The Warned
List is also accessible at the Judiciary Website. At
2:30 p.m. in every afternoon the Listing Officer will
mark on the Warned List those cases that will be tried
the next day specifying the venue and date of trial.
It is the responsibility of the parties to ensure that
they will attend the trial on time.
If either party intends to call witnesses, their attendance at the trial must be secured well in advance. It may be necessary to issue a writ of subpoena, i.e. a witness summons. (See Form No. 28 or 29 in Appendix A of the Rules of the District Court, Chapter 336 of the Laws of Hong Kong.)
The appropriate office for issuing such a writ is
the Registry of the District Court. Every writ of subpoena
should be accompanied by a deposit to cover the witness’s
Both parties should attend Court punctually on the
trial date, bringing along relevant original documents
and photocopies for the judge and the other party if
necessary. Your witnesses should come with you. Check
the notice board on the ground floor lobby or the Enquiry
Counter on the 6th floor to find out which court is
hearing your case. .
At the trial, the Court will hear the evidence of
witnesses and the submissions of the parties.
The Court may adjourn the case to another date if
further information and / or evidence are needed. The
Court may deliver judgment at the end of the trial or
deliver / hand down the judgment at a later date.
If the parties are willing to settle, the Court will
make the settlement an order of the Court.
If you and the other party settle the case amicably
before the trial, you may file a notice to discontinue
the case, or file a consent application setting out
your agreement. You may also apply to the Court at the
trial to have the terms of settlement made an order
of the Court.
Generally speaking, if you are not satisfied with the
decision of a Master, you may appeal against it to a
Judge in chambers. You must do so by way of a notice
within 14 days after the decision. For certain matters,
e.g. judgments or orders made by a Master after the
examination of a judgment debtor or judgments made summarily
in actions arising out of a hire-purchase agreement,
or assessment of damages, the appeal should be made
to the Court of Appeal of the High Court. For such cases,
the application for leave to appeal must be made to
the Master within 28 days from the date of the judgment
or order. If the Master refuses to grant leave, you
may apply to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal
within 14 days from the date of such refusal.
If you are not satisfied with the decision of a Judge,
you may apply to the Judge within 28 days for non-interlocutory
judgments or orders, or within 14 days for interlocutory
judgments or orders from the date of the decision for
leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal of the High Court.
If the Judge refuses to grant leave, you may apply
within 14 days from the date of refusal to the Court
of Appeal for leave to appeal. The Court of Appeal may
grant leave on such terms as to costs, security, etc.
as it thinks fit.
If, after you have obtained a judgment, the judgment
debtor fails to obey the order, you may apply to the
Court for a Writ of Fieri Facias to enforce the judgment.
The Bailiff will “levy execution” to recover the judgment
debt by seizing goods and chattels of the judgment debtor
to cover the money owed to you or to recover possession
of property for you.
Contact the District Court Registry for information
if you want to apply for the Bailiff’s service. You
may also refer to the "Bailiff Section" booklet available from the District
Court Registry or the Bailiff Office.
There are other modes of execution and we could not
include all the details. Please read the Rules
of the District Court or seek legal advice.
- Waiting time in the District Court:
- Criminal cases: 100 days from the date of first
appearance of the accused to trial
- Civil cases: 120 days from the date of listing to
- Wherever possible, the Judiciary will reply at
once to correspondence from members of the public.
In any case, we will give you an interim reply within
10 days and a full response within 30 days of receiving
- If you wish to enquire about the rules and practice
of the District Court, you may contact the Resource
Centre for Unrepresented Litigants at the High Court,
38 Queensway, Hong Kong. (A hot line to the Centre
is set up at the Registry of the District Court).
- We welcome all comments and suggestions for improving
our services. Please send them to the Judiciary Administrator
at the High Court, 38 Queensway, Hong Kong.
|Monday to Friday
||9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
||2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
||9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
|(Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays)
- Legal proceedings should always be thought of as
a last resort. It is advisable to make every effort
to settle a dispute by agreement.
- Even where you cannot reach agreement with the
other party, it may still not be worth your while
to begin an action. Always consider the unavoidable
element of hostility; the chance that your action
may not succeed; the time consumed; the inevitable
mental and physical strain; the legal costs; and whether
the defendant has sufficient assets to pay you if
you do win the case.
- You should also note that in some cases, legal
procedures are considerably more complicated than
the basic procedures described in this general reference
booklet. It is thus always advisable to seek the help
of a legal practitioner, whether through legal aid
||Room LG105, Lower Ground Floor 1, High Court Building, 38,
Queensway, Hong Kong
To provide information and assistance on court rules
and procedures to unrepresented litigants, who are parties
to, or about to commence, civil proceedings in the High
Court or the District Court.
- Reception and general enquiries counter
- Videos on court procedures
- Brochures on civil proceedings
- Frequently asked questions
- Sample court forms
- Computer facilities
- Oaths and declaration services
|Monday to Friday
||8:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
||2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
|Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Public
The staff of the Resource Centre are happy to assist
you with enquiries on court procedures, but they will
not provide any legal advice or offer any comment or
assistance on the conduct of specific court cases and
Assistance on matrimonial, lands and employees' compensation
matters and probate applications will continue to be
provided by the respective registries.