Enforcement of judgments in Hong Kong: overview
A Q&A guide to enforcement of judgments law in Hong Kong
The Q&A gives a structured overview of key practical issues concerning enforcement of judgments in this jurisdiction, including definitions and preliminary proceedings; applicable regulations/conventions; pending appeals; enforceable judgments; conditions for recognition and enforcement; proper service; public policy; provisional remedies; interest; actual enforcement; enforcing foreign judgments; enforcement proceedings; formalities; and any reform proposals.
This Q&A is part of the Enforcement of Judgments and Arbitral Awards in Commercial Matters Global Guide.
Enforcement of judgments: domestic and foreign
Definitions and preliminary proceedings
Under common law, there is no specific definition of "judgment" in the context of enforcement. However, reference can be made to the definitions under statutes. Under the High Court Ordinance (Cap 4) (HCO), judgment includes decrees.
A foreign judgment can be enforceable in Hong Kong under two different regimes:
Under common law.
Under statute (Ordinance), that is the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO).
Under common law, a monetary judgment given by a foreign court creates a cause of action in favour of the judgment creditor. The judgment creditor can commence an action in Hong Kong using the foreign judgment. Under common law, there is no limit to the countries or territories whose judgments can be enforced in Hong Kong.
Under FJREO, judgments from the "superior courts" of a number of countries, including some jurisdictions of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brunei, France, Germany, Italy, India, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Israel, Singapore and Sri Lanka, are enforceable by the simple procedure of registration. A "superior court" means a court with unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters (paragraph 4(b), FJREO).
"Judgment" means either (section 1, FJREO):
A judgment or order given or made by a court in any civil proceedings.
A judgment or order given or made by a court in any criminal proceedings for the payment of a sum of money in respect of compensation or damages to an injured party.
The definition of judgment does not include a judgment that, by virtue of the Foreign Judgments (Restriction on Recognition and Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 46) cannot be recognised or enforced in Hong Kong.
Final decisions. Final judgments are enforceable. The fact that a judgment is subject to appeal does not prevent it from being final and conclusive.
Preliminary/provisional proceedings. Additionally, interlocutory orders, such as interlocutory injunctions, are also enforceable.
Final decisions. Both under common law and under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO), a foreign judgment must be final and conclusive to be enforceable (section 3(2)( a), FJREO; Korea Data Systems Co Ltd v Chiang Jay Tien  3 HKC 239).
Preliminary/ provisional proceedings. A foreign judgment or order that is expressly interim or nisi is not enforceable. Similarly, a decision in a foreign preliminary proceeding where the defendant is free to institute plenary proceedings where the matter would be decided after a more thorough enquiry before the same judge is not enforceable (Westpac New Zealand Ltd v Gao Hui HCZZ 27/2009).
Currently, except for the arrangement with mainland China, Hong Kong has not entered into any multilateral convention or bilateral treaty regarding recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.
The enforcement of judgments made by mainland Chinese courts is subject to a separate regime that is governed by the Mainland Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 597) (MJREO).
MJREO was enacted to implement an arrangement between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities under Article 95 of the Basic Law (the constitution of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, enacted on the handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997).
A judgment creditor under a mainland judgment can apply to the Court of First Instance (CFI) for an order that the judgment is registered under MJREO.
The conditions for a mainland judgment to be enforceable in Hong Kong under MJREO are:
The judgment is in relation to a commercial contract and was given after 1 August 2008.
The parties to the commercial contract had a written agreement made after 1 August 2008 specifying that the courts in the mainland have exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute.
The judgment was given by the Supreme People's Court, any Higher or Intermediate People's Court or certain recognised Basic People's Courts.
The judgment is enforceable in the mainland.
The judgment is final and conclusive.
The judgment is for a definite sum of money.
Non-conformity in service does not normally result in the refusal of enforcement of a foreign judgment. The irregularity of service is irrelevant to a court's decision in relation to a foreign court's jurisdiction. However, if the non-conformity in service deprived the judgment debtor of his right to reasonable notice or opportunity to be heard, it may be possible to invoke another ground for refusal of enforcement at common law, namely that the foreign proceeding was contrary to natural justice. However, there are no reported instances of this ground succeeding in Hong Kong and only one example in the UK that did not concern the process of service (Adams v Cape Industries Plc  1 Ch 433).
Under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO), if the judgment debtor did not receive notice of the proceedings (notwithstanding whether the service was proper or not) in sufficient time to enable him to defend the proceedings and then he did not appear, the registration is set aside on application (section 6(a)( iii), FJREO).
A domestic judgment is enforceable notwithstanding that it may be subject to appeal.
The fact that a judgment may be potentially subject to appeal does not prevent it from being final. However, in practice, an application to enforce a judgment that is subject to appeal may be stayed (section 7(1), Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319); Nouvion v Freeman  15 AC 1).
Money judgments/awards. Domestic money judgments are enforceable if the judgment is for a definite monetary sum.
Judgments ordering or prohibiting the doing of acts/injunctions. Both mandatory injunctions (an order requiring a person to do an act) and prohibitory injunctions (an order requiring a person to abstain from doing an act) are enforceable (order 29, rule 1, Rules of High Court (Cap 4A) (RHC)).
Declaratory judgments. Domestic declaratory judgments are enforceable.
Default judgments. Domestic default judgments are enforceable. Orders 13 and 19 of the RHC govern judgments in default of acknowledgment of service and judgments in default of defence respectively.
Judgments made without notice (ex parte) /awards. Ex parte judgments, such as an injunction order made ex parte, are enforceable subject to the court's right to set it aside (order 32, rule 6, RHC).
Foreign decisions granting provisional measures. This is not applicable to domestic judgments.
Foreign enforcement orders/( pre-judgment) attachment orders/awards. This is not applicable to domestic judgments.
Money judgments/awards. Foreign money judgments are generally enforceable. In fact, under common law, in order to be enforceable a foreign judgment must be for a definite monetary sum. Similarly, under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO), to be enforceable, the foreign judgment must be for the payment of a sum of money (section 3(2), FJREO).
Judgments ordering or prohibiting the doing of acts/injunctions. Foreign final injunctions or foreign court orders compelling the parties to do certain acts are not enforceable (Cova Enterprise Ltd v Ruddy Tjanaka HCMP 368/2003). Also, other judgments that are not for the payment of a definite sum of money (for example, declaratory judgments or orders for specific performance (other than payment of money)) are not enforceable.
Declaratory judgments. Foreign declaratory judgments are not enforceable.
Default judgments. Case law suggests that a foreign default judgment is enforceable even though the original court may have the power to set it aside (Nintendo of America Inc v Bung Enterprise Ltd  2 HKC 629). This case was in relation to a US judgment and therefore concerns common law enforcement, but the principle should be equally applicable to enforcement under the FJREO.
Judgments made without notice (ex parte)/awards. For foreign ex parte judgments, there is no clear cut rule on whether they are enforceable. It largely depends on whether, in the court's view, the foreign court has competent jurisdiction in giving such a judgment (see Question 18 on jurisdiction requirements).
Foreign decisions granting provisional measures. A foreign decision granting provisional measures is not enforceable unless it is final and for payment of a definite monetary sum.
Foreign enforcement orders/(pre-judgment) attachment orders/awards. Foreign enforcement orders or attachment orders in commercial actions are generally not enforceable.
Domestic judgments are generally enforceable (see Question 6).
Except for judgments that cannot be enforced (see Question 6), the recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment is expressly excluded where the bringing of the proceedings in the foreign court was contrary to a valid dispute resolution agreement and the judgment debtor did not submit to such jurisdiction (section 3, Foreign Judgments (Restriction on Recognition and Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 46)).
Conditions for recognition and enforcement
The conditions mentioned below (see below, Foreign judgments) are not relevant to the recognition and enforcement of domestic judgments in Hong Kong. Those factors are however taken into account by the court in reaching its decision and can impact on the court's willingness or ability to hear the matter or deliver judgment in that matter. Once judgment is delivered, the below factors are no longer relevant, and the judgment, once sealed, is recognised and can be enforced.
Judgment/award is final as to its effects. Interlocutory orders, such as interlocutory injunctions, are also enforceable.
Limitation period. No enforcement proceedings can be brought on any judgment after the expiration of 12 years from the date on which the judgment was given (section 4(4), Limitation Ordinance (Cap 347) (LO)).
Other conditions. Generally, a mandatory or prohibitory injunction cannot be enforced under the Rules of High Court (Cap 4A) (RHC) unless (order 45, rule 5, RHC):
A copy of the same has been served personally on the person against whom enforcement is sought.
With a mandatory injunction, the copy has been so served before the expiration of the time within which that person is required to do the act stated in the mandatory injunction (order 45, rule 7, RHC).
Court/arbitral court had jurisdiction. For enforcement of foreign judgments, "jurisdiction" means jurisdiction according to the rules of conflict of laws (or private international law) under the law instead of the law of the foreign jurisdiction whose court gave the judgment (see Question 18).
Defendant had proper notice of the proceedings. Generally, in order to be enforceable, a foreign judgment must not be obtained in proceedings that were contrary to natural justice. However, this does not mean every procedural defect in the foreign proceeding will impeach the foreign judgment. Only when the procedure adopted in the foreign court violates the Hong Kong court's fundamental notions of justice (for example, if the period of notice given was so short that it was impossible for the judgment debtor to prepare his case and to be heard) can the court intervene.
No incompatibility with public policy. This condition applies to both enforcement of foreign judgments and arbitral awards (see Question 11).
Reciprocity. This condition is not applicable.
No conflicting domestic or foreign judgment exists. If a foreign judgment is inconsistent with a prior judgment or foreign judgment that is entitled to recognition, it will not be recognised or enforced in Hong Kong.
Judgment/award is final as to its effects. With foreign judgments, the judgment must be final and conclusive, which means that the judgment must conclusively, finally and forever establish the existence of the debt so as to make it res judicata between the parties.
Limitation period. No enforcement proceedings can be brought after the expiration of 12 years from the date on which the cause of action accrued (that is the date that judgment was given) (section 4(3), LO).
Other conditions. To be recognised and enforceable under the common law, in addition to the above conditions, a foreign judgment must meet the following preconditions:
The judgment was not obtained by fraud.
The judgment was not based on a foreign public, penal or revenue law. The courts will not, directly or indirectly, enforce a penal, revenue or other public law of a foreign state.
Under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319), for a foreign judgment to be registered and enforceable, it must be pronounced by a "superior" court in a designated jurisdiction (see Question 1). Otherwise the conditions are substantially the same as those under the common law.
This does not apply to domestic judgments.
Both under common law and under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO), the burden is on the person against whom the enforcement is sought to show that grounds for refusal exist. The only difference is that under common law, the grounds for refusal operate by way of defence whereas under FJREO they operate as grounds to set aside the registration.
Whether the service of the proceedings is done correctly is not relevant to the enforcement of domestic judgments. These considerations are taken into account by the court before giving judgment (see Question 8).
However, the court takes into account whether the judgment has been properly served. Service of domestic judgments needs to be effected in accordance with Order 65 of the Rules of High Court (Cap 4A) (RHC). Acceptable methods for service of a domestic judgment under the law include:
Service by registered post.
Service by insertion through a letter box.
The courts apply Hong Kong law in deciding whether a foreign court has jurisdiction or not (see Question 18). Therefore, the requirements for service under foreign law are not taken into account by the court when considering whether the foreign court has jurisdiction over the dispute.
Only where the abnormality of service in a foreign proceeding is contrary to natural justice under the law can the courts refuse the enforcement of the judgment given in such action (see Question 8). As there is no case law on this point to provide any guidance it is difficult to estimate what methods of service are regarded by the courts as "contrary to natural justice". However, it may be reasonable to assume that the service methods allowed in proceedings will generally not be challenged in the context of enforcement of foreign judgments, for example, personal service, by registered post and by insertion through a letter box.
In the context of enforcement of foreign judgments, it appears that the public policy notion is not only limited to procedural deficiencies. There is case law suggesting that a foreign judgment that is inconsistent in substance with a decision of a competent Hong Kong court in proceedings between the same parties would not be enforced (Vervaeke v Smith  1 AC 145).
A foreign judgment obtained in violation of a Hong Kong anti-suit injunction will normally not be enforced on the ground of public policy (Philip Alexander Securities & Futures Ltd v Bamberger  ILpr 73). The public policy restriction also extends to other kinds of issues such as multiple damages awards imposed as a punitive measure (Nanus Asia Company Incorporated v Standard Chartered Bank  1 HKLR 396).
The court can by order grant an injunction when it considers it just or convenient to do so (section 21L, High Court Ordinance (Cap 4) (HCO)).
The judgment creditor may be able to apply for a Mareva injunction to freeze the assets of the debtor pending the proceedings by showing that he has a good arguable case and that refusal of an injunction would involve a real risk that a judgment or award in their favour would remain unsatisfied (Ninemia Maritime Corporation v Trave Schiffahrtsgesellschaft m.b.H und Co.K.G  1 WLR 1412).
A Mareva injunction can be applied in foreign court proceedings when they are still ongoing provided that the judgment of these proceedings will be enforceable in Hong Kong (section 21M, HCO).
A judgment creditor is only entitled to pre-judgment interest if the claim for such interest has been specifically pleaded (section 48, High Court Ordinance (Cap 4) (HCO); order 18, rule 8(4), Rules of High Court (Cap 4A) (RHC)). The court has a wide discretion to decide the rate and the period for which pre-judgment interest is to be awarded.
In the absence of an order by the court (section 49(1)(a), HCO), a judgment creditor is entitled to post-judgment interest at the judgment rate from the time of pronouncement of the judgment until payment in full (section 49(1)(b), HCO). The judgment rate is fixed by the Chief Justice and is currently 8% per annum.
The same rules apply as for domestic judgments (see above, Domestic judgments).
The major procedures for enforcement of a local judgment are by:
Issuing a writ of execution: directing the bailiff, an officer of the court, to seize and sell the judgment debtor's goods to satisfy the judgment debt.
Presentation of a petition to wind up a judgment debtor company or to declare bankrupt an individual judgment debtor.
Examination of the judgment debtor (if a company, then one of its officers) before a master by oral cross-examination about debts owing to him and what other property or means he has to satisfy the judgment.
Garnishee proceedings, where debts due to the defendant can be ordered to be paid directly to the plaintiff to satisfy the judgment.
Charging order, where a charge in favour of the judgment creditor is imposed on an interest in land or securities owned by the judgment debtor.
If the plaintiff succeeds in the enforcement proceedings, the foreign judgment becomes enforceable as if it were a judgment given by the Hong Kong court. Therefore, the same actual enforcement procedure for a normal local judgment applies.
Most of the enforcement procedures such as a writ of execution, garnishee order, application for oral examination of the judgment debtor and charging order are made ex parte (see Question 16). A judgment debtor normally cannot oppose such enforcement procedures unless he can prove the judgment debt has already been satisfied.
The same rules apply as for domestic judgments (see above, Domestic judgments).
Enforcing foreign judgments
There is no concept of "international jurisdiction" or "exorbitant ground of jurisdiction" in the context of the enforcement of foreign judgments in Hong Kong.
In both common law and statutory regimes, it is an essential condition for enforcement that the foreign court giving the judgment had competent jurisdiction to do so (see Question 8). As opposed to applying the law of the foreign country, the courts apply the law of Hong Kong to determine whether the foreign court has jurisdiction.
Also, the courts take a very restrictive approach so that even though under Hong Kong law it is possible for a plaintiff to serve on a defendant out of Hong Kong with the leave of the courts, in the context of enforcing a foreign judgment. A foreign court's jurisdiction is normally denied if the judgment debtor, at the time of commencement of proceedings, was not present in the foreign country, even though he may have been properly served out of jurisdiction or the jurisdiction of the foreign court can be established on other grounds under the foreign law.
To summarise, a foreign court has jurisdiction only if:
The judgment debtor, at the time of commencement of proceedings, was present in that foreign country.
The judgment debtor was the plaintiff or claimant in the foreign country, or if he counterclaimed.
The judgment debtor, who was a defendant in the foreign proceedings, submitted to the jurisdiction of the foreign court by voluntarily entering an appearance.
The judgment debtor has, before the commencement of the foreign proceedings, agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court.
Exorbitant ground of jurisdiction
A foreign judgment is not enforceable if the foreign court assumed jurisdiction contrary to a valid dispute resolution agreement (see Question 7).
If a judgment debtor voluntarily submitted to the foreign court's jurisdiction, a Hong Kong court will treat such court as having jurisdiction, even though that court had no jurisdiction on other grounds.
A foreign judgment for a definite sum of money creates a cause of action in favour of the judgment creditor who can plead the foreign judgment in formal proceedings.
Under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319), judgments from a "superior court" in certain named jurisdictions can be enforced under a simple registration procedure. A registered foreign judgment has the same effect as if it were made by the Hong Kong court.
It is not a requirement of the law to require re-litigation on the original cause of action in order to enforce a foreign judgment. However, the parties can choose to re-litigate the same matter in Hong Kong if enforcement of the foreign judgment has been refused and the Hong Kong court has jurisdiction to hear the dispute.
Judgment enforced under the common law regime. Under the common law regime, to enforce a foreign judgment, proceedings are issued in the usual way and subject to the usual time limits, with the cause of action being a debt, based on the foreign judgment itself. Depending on the amount of the judgment debt, the proceeding can be taken in the Court of First Instance (CFI) (where the judgment debt is equal to or exceeds HK$1 million) or lower courts. If the plaintiff is a corporation, a solicitor must be engaged to act on its behalf in the CFI. Where the case is in the lower courts, a corporation can choose to be represented by its director.
Judgment enforced under FJREO. Under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO), the enforcement proceedings are in the CFI. Therefore, if the applicant is a corporation, a solicitor must be engaged.
Security for costs
If the plaintiff or applicant resides outside of Hong Kong, it is normally required to provide security for costs (Order 23, rule 1, Rules of High Court (Cap 4A) (RHC)).
Jurisdiction and venue
As Hong Kong is a single-jurisdiction region, subject-matter jurisdiction is irrelevant.
Adversarial or without notice (ex parte)
The proceeding is adversarial under the common law regime. The proceedings start with the issuance of writ of summons and a short statement of claim for the amount of the judgment debt.
Under the FJREO, the judgment creditor can file an ex parte application supported by an affidavit to the CFI to have the foreign judgment registered.
Judgment enforced under the common law regime. Generally under the common law regime, the plaintiff can file an application for summary judgment on the ground that there is no defence to the action. However, the defendant contesting the enforcement may not need to meet a very high standard of proof in order for summary judgment to be refused and an order for the defence to be tried. Then the action proceeds in the normal manner. The time frame of the proceeding depends on whether (and how) the defendant contests the enforcement. In straightforward cases, the proceeding can take six to 12 months.
Judgment enforced under FJREO. Under the FJREO, if the criteria are satisfied, the court registers the foreign judgment. The judgment debtor, after being served with notice of the registration, can apply to set aside the registration based on the ground of refusal of enforcement (see Question 9). The normal uncontested registration procedure can take two to four months to complete.
To enforce a foreign judgment under common law, the court fee for sealing a writ of summons in the CFI is HK$1,045 while the fee for the same in the District Court is HK$630.
For enforcement under the FJREO, the court fee for an originating ex parte application is HK$1,045.
Judgment enforced under the common law regime. Under this common law route, the judgment given by the court to enforce a foreign judgment is subject to appeal in the same way as other first instance judgments.
Judgment enforced under FJREO. A foreign judgment registered under the FJREO is not subject to appeal.
Under the common law regime, as the proceeding is conducted in the usual way there are no particular documentary requirements on the foreign judgment. In practice, the original judgment or a certified copy of the judgment is normally sufficient.
Under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO), the original foreign judgment or a verified or certified or otherwise duly authenticated copy of it is required (order 71, rule 3, Rules of High Court (Cap 4A) (RHC)).
Where the original judgment is submitted, it appears there is no requirement for authentication (order 71, rule 3, RHC). Where a copy of the foreign judgment is submitted, it must be duly authenticated. As Hong Kong is a member to the HCCH Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents 1961 (Apostille Convention) (most European countries are also members), the courts generally accept a copy of the foreign judgment duly apostilled by the apostille office of a foreign member country.
A judgment must be translated into English or Chinese (preferably traditional Chinese), if it was not made in either of those two languages.
The official languages of Hong Kong are traditional Chinese and English only.
It is necessary for a translation of the foreign judgment to be certified by a notary public or authenticated by affidavit (order 71, rule 3(1)(a), Rules of High Court (Cap 4A)).
See Question 22.
Generally, an application under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) for registering a foreign judgment must include as a minimum the following information (order 71, rule 3, Rules of High Court (Cap 4A)):
The foreign court in which the judgment was obtained.
The date of the foreign judgment.
The amount of the judgment debt that remains unsatisfied.
The name and address of the judgment debtor and creditor respectively.
The amount of interest under the law of the country in which the judgment was given up to the time of registration.
The provisions in respect of which it is sought to register the judgment (if only part of the foreign judgment is to be registered).
Evidence on the enforceability of the judgment by execution in the country of the original court and of the law of that country under which any interest has become due under the judgment.
Claim as awarded
See above, Judgment.
Facts and legal grounds
See above, Judgment.
See above, Judgment.
Under the common law regime, nothing in the law prohibits claims or enforcement of foreign judgments in a foreign currency.
The Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance (Cap 319) (FJREO) explicitly requires that the judgment debt in a foreign currency must be converted into Hong Kong dollars (section 4(3), FJREO). The exchange rate prevailing on the date of registration applies.
Proposals for reform
Hong Kong Department of Justice Bilingual Laws Information System
Description. This website sets out all the current ordinances and subsidiary legislation of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, in both English and Chinese. This website is an official website and is maintained by the Department of Justice of the Hong Kong Government.
Malcolm Kemp, Senior Partner
Professional qualifications. Hong Kong, Lawyer, 1982; England and Wales, Lawyer, 1980
Areas of practice. Arbitration; aviation litigation and regulation; banking and finance litigation; commercial disputes; commercial litigation; commodities; landlord and tenant; marine and international trade; real estate litigation; regulation; regulatory litigation; restructuring and insolvency.