Hong Kong Legal System
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2. What types of cases will be heard in each of these major law courts?

Magistrates' Courts

Magistrates exercise criminal jurisdiction which covers a wide range of indictable and summary offences. Their powers of punishment are generally restricted to a maximum of two years' imprisonment or a fine of $100,000.

While in respect of certain offences their powers are greater. There are also some special magistrates who deal with cases of a more routine nature, such as hawking and minor traffic offences.

District Court

The District Court has limited jurisdiction in both criminal and civil matters. In its criminal jurisdiction, the court may hear cases with the exception of a few very serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and rape. The maximum term of imprisonment it can impose is seven years.

The District Court has civil jurisdiction to hear monetary claims over $75,000 but not more than $3,000,000. Apart from its general civil jurisdiction, the District Court has exclusive jurisdiction over claims brought under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance (Cap. 282), tax recovery claims under the Inland Revenue Ordinance (Cap. 112) and distress for rent under the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) Ordinance (Cap. 7).

Matrimonial causes (e.g. divorce) and adoption applications must also be commenced in the District Court (the court which handles these types of cases is known as the Family Court).

High Court

The High Court comprises the Court of Appeal and the Court of First Instance.

i) Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal hears appeals on all civil and criminal matters from the Court of First Instance and the District Court. It also hears appeals from the Lands Tribunal and some statutory bodies.

ii) Court of First Instance

The jurisdiction of the Court of First Instance is unlimited in both criminal and civil matters. The Court of First Instance also hears appeals from Magistrates' Courts, the Labour Tribunal, the Small Claims Tribunal and the Obscene Articles Tribunal.

Court of Final Appeal

The Joint Declaration and the Basic Law specifically guarantee the establishment of a Hong Kong based Court of Final Appeal on 1 July 1997. It replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London as the final appellate court for Hong Kong. It has jurisdiction conferred on it by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal Ordinance (Cap. 484) and it hears appeals on civil and criminal matters from the High Court.

The Court of Final Appeal Ordinance provides that an appeal shall be heard and determined by the Court constituting the Chief Justice, three permanent judges and one non-permanent Hong Kong judge or one judge from another common law jurisdiction.

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