2. can searches be conducted?
3. Certificates of good standing – if and how these are being conducted
4. Other searches – how are these being conducted?
5. Court sessions and position (including filings and hearings) – updated
After the General Adjourned Period ended on 3 May 2020, all court hearings in Hong Kong generally resumed as safely as circumstances permitted. Court and tribunal registries and account offices have all re-opened in stages from 6 May, and returned to normal operation from 25 May (with family court and small claims tribunal from 27 May).
As of 30 June, the case management teams of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre remain fully operational.
The Hong Kong Government has rolled out a further round of HKD137 billion financial relief to help Hong Kong businesses carry on and workers continue receiving a salary during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two of the measures are relevant to the legal and dispute resolution sector: (1) the LawTech Fund, which aims to assist some small and medium size law firms as well as barristers’ chambers in obtaining/upgrading IT systems (such as video conference facilities) and attending LawTech training courses, which has opened for applications from 28 April; and (2) the COVID-19 Online Dispute Resolution Scheme, which will engage an electronic Business Related Arbitration and Mediation system and cover COVID-19 related disputes with the claim amount for each case to be capped at HKD500,000 and one of the parties (claimant or respondent) being a Hong Kong resident or company. On 29 June, the Department of Justice said such scheme has been launched to provide speedy and cost effective online dispute resolution services to the general public and businesses. The parties must enter into a dispute resolution agreement under the scheme and pay HK$200 each as a registration fee. Fees for mediators and arbitrators will be paid by the Hong Kong government.
6. travel restrictions
As of 10am (HK time) 30 June, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hong Kong is 1,204, with 91 newly confirmed cases reported in the past 14 days.
On 6 April, the Hong Kong government announced that it will extend until further notice the entry restrictions implemented on 25 March to all non-Hong Kong residents, along with the quarantine and airport transit measures also in place. All non-Hong Kong residents coming from overseas countries and regions by plane will be denied entry to Hong Kong, while non-Hong Kong residents coming from Mainland China, Macau and Taiwan will be denied entry if they have been to any overseas country and region in the past 14 days. Since 19 March, travellers from any overseas country or territory are subject to 14-day compulsory home quarantine, regardless of whether they are Hong Kong residents. From 22 April, all asymptomatic inbound travellers arriving at the Hong Kong International Airport must wait for COVID-19 test results at a designated location. From 1 June, air transit services at Hong Kong International Airport has resumed in phases. On 18 June, the Hong Kong government said it has strengthened the testing of inbound travellers from Beijing in response to the latest COVID-19 situation in Beijing. People who have been to Beijing in the past 14 days must possess proof of a negative testing result for COVID-19 nucleic acid test taken within the past seven days, and will be given specimen bottles for conducting COVID-19 testing, to collect and submit their deep throat saliva samples.
On 18 May, the Hong Kong government announced an exemption for certain groups of people, including certified public accountants, partners, directors or employees of practice units registered with the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, who are required to travel to the Mainland China to conduct audit work for companies listed on a recognized stock market and have operations in Mainland China. Such persons may apply for an exemption from the compulsory quarantine arrangement, but must only travel to and stay in the area or city of Mainland China where the professional services are provided, and will be subject to medical surveillance arranged by the Department of Health for a period of 14 days after returning to Hong Kong. From 22 May, an application for such exemption is also open to up to two directors, at any specified time period, of companies either listed on, or applying for listing on, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, who are on duty to travel between Mainland China and Hong Kong and satisfy certain eligibility criteria. On 8 June, the Hong Kong government announced thatHong Kong-listed or to-be listed companies in the Hang Seng Index, Hang Seng China Enterprises Index or Hang Seng Composite LargeCap, MidCap or SmallCap Index, should be included in this exception and such work may include, for example, attending shareholders’ meeting and regulatory hearings.
On 2 June, the Hong Kong government announced that the 14-days of compulsory quarantine for people arriving in Hong Kong from Mainland China, Macao or Taiwan (or anyone that visited these countries during the 14 days before their date of arrival) will be extended by a month to 7 July. In addition, the 14-days of compulsory quarantine for people arriving in Hong Kong from all other places has been extended by 3 months to 18 September.
On 15 June, the Hong Kong government announced the mechanism for qualified legal practitioners who travel from Mainland China, Macau or Taiwan to Hong Kong to provide legal services that require on-site physical presence in relation to important and large-scale commercial transactions, to apply for exemption from the compulsory quarantine arrangement.
The Hong Kong government is also discussing with Mainland China and Macau authorities about mutual recognition of COVID-19 testing results conducted by recognised medical laboratories, to exempt the quarantine requirement for Hong Kong travellers to those places, and actively working with Guangdong and Macau on introducing a health code which would allow more people to travel again.
7. Other Temporary Regulatory Measures – updated
The Hong Kong government published a regulation which took effect from 29 March prohibiting group gatherings with more than four people in public places, with certain exceptions, which has been relaxed on 8 May to no more than eight people, and relaxed on 19 June to no more than 50 people. Offenders are liable to a maximum penalty of a HKD25,000 fine and imprisonment for six months. Bars, pubs and fitness centres are allowed to resume operation subject to certain conditions. Customer limits for restaurants has been cancelled on 19 June. The scope of existing exempted group gatherings has been expanded to cover shareholders’ meeting of a listed company, subject to no food or drink being served and no more than 50 people in a room or partitioned area.
On 4 May, the Hong Kong Companies Registry resumed normal services.
As of 30 June, there have not been any changes to BVI VIRGGIN’s services offered to Hong Kong based users. Users may continue using services such as reserving company names, requesting for certificates of good standing and conducting company searches. The BVI FSC’s Asia representative office in Hong Kong is now open to the public and will continue to make arrangements for delivering the certificates to agents through courier.
The Hong Kong government announced on 26 June that the use of Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan as a quarantine centre will cease in late July as the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong has begun to stabilise. Chun Yeung Estate has served as a quarantine centre since 20 February and more than 7,700 people have been quarantined there so far.
8. Implications for economic substance compliance and residency
9. Completion of Transactions
Despite the impact of coronavirus, a number of corporate transactions involving offshore entities continue to proceed and close.
We have frequently been asked to provide offshore law advice on the following:
- Whether it is possible for an offshore entity to hold board and shareholders’ meetings via tele-conference or video-conference, instead of physical meetings?
- Whether it is possible for a director the offshore entity or an authorised signatory to execute resolutions or transaction documents using electronic signatures
- Whether it is possible to execute a deed without affixing the common seal?
- Whether it is possible for a company to keep the original register of members and register of directors outside offshore jurisdictions?
- Whether there has been any extension of time to complete the filing requirements to satisfy the economic substance requirements?