Courts in China, specifically in Hong Kong, have demonstrated its legal system’s continuing embrace of technology.
The city’s Court of First Instance — the highest court in Hong Kong that can hear a case at first instance with unlimited jurisdiction in criminal and civil matters — granted the plaintiff’s application for service of process through access to a data room. This is the first time, according to reports, that this novel method of service of process has been used in Hong Kong. The decision is a clear showing of the Chinese courts’ efforts to incorporate the use of technology in courtroom proceedings.
The underlying case had to do with misappropriations of funds. The act occurred through numerous bank accounts and the suit included 28 defendants. None of the defendants actively participated in the legal proceedings. The court granted service out of jurisdiction for 16 of the overseas defendants. Notably, certain court documents require personal service while others may use the method of ordinary service (by mail or leaving at the proper physical address). The Hong Kong court granted the plaintiff’s proposal to serve documents by access to a data room because of the numerous defendants and potential joinder of future defendants to the legal proceedings.
The lower court in Hwang Joon gave the following directions to the serving party for service by access to a data room:
- Creating an online data room containing all the relevant documents;
- Providing a link to the data room to all intended recipients through a method previously approved by the court;
- Providing an access code to the data room, as well as instructions on how to access the room in a separate email or post mail to the recipient(s).
An English court had previously allowed service by access to a data room in CMOC Sales & Marketing Ltd v Persons Unknown and 30 others  EWHC 2230 (Comm). The COMC case involved email scams as well as fraudulent transfers of monies.
It is true that in recent years courts both in the United States and around the world have become more amenable to the use of technology in legal proceedings as well as service of process methods. The Hwang Joon court stressed, however, that the approach to technology use in service of process is not a “one size fits all.” Specifically, the court noted that the party seeking the method of service of process will need to establish that the chosen method is good and service will still be properly effectuated. While the Hwang Joon decisions are welcomed, these decisions remain the exception and not the rule of permitted methods of service of process.