When and why was the CFA established?

The CFA was established on 1 July 1997, upon the commencement of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal Ordinance (Cap.484) (HKCFAO). It replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London as the highest appellate court in Hong Kong after 30 June 1997.

How does the CFA fit into Hong Kong’s court system?

The CFA is the final appellate court within the court system of Hong Kong.

Who are the CFA judges?

The CFA judges consist of the Chief Justice , the three permanent judges and the panels of Hong Kong and overseas non-permanent judges. The total number of non-permanent judges is capped at 30 under the HKCFAO.

How many CFA judges sit in a case?

Final appeals

Final appeals are heard by the full Court consisting of 5 judges comprising the Chief Justice, 3 permanent judges and 1 non-permanent judge.

If the Chief Justice does not sit in an appeal, a permanent judge will be designated to sit in place of the Chief Justice and to preside at the hearing. In that event, the other 2 permanent judges will sit with an overseas non-permanent judge and also 1 non-permanent Hong Kong judge. Similarly, if a permanent judge is unable to sit, a non-permanent Hong Kong judge will sit in place of that permanent judge.

Overseas non-permanent judges come on a rotational basis for a month at a time. The rotation is an administrative matter determined by the Chief Justice. Similarly, the selection of a non-permanent Hong Kong judge to sit in the full Court or Appeal Committee is an administrative matter determined by the Chief Justice.

Applications for leave to appeal

Applications for leave to appeal are heard by the Appeal Committee consisting of three members of the Court, namely the Chief Justice and 2 permanent judges nominated, or 3 permanent judges.

If there is an insufficient number of permanent judges available to sit, a non-permanent Hong Kong judge will be nominated to form the Appeal Committee.

How are the CFA judges appointed?

The Chief Justice and other CFA judges are appointed by the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on the recommendation of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission.

In accordance with the Basic Law, the Chief Executive is required to obtain the endorsement of the Legislative Council for the appointment of the Chief Justice and other judges of the CFA and to report the appointment to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (NPCSC).

What is the relationship between the CFA and the Legislative Council?

The CFA and the Legislative Council have separate but complementary functions. The Legislative Council makes, amends and repeals legislation. The courts, including the CFA, interpret and apply legislation when deciding cases.

The CFA may also strike down (i.e. invalidate) legislation which it decides to be in contravention of the Basic Law, which includes provisions protecting fundamental rights.

Where there is no legislation which applies to a particular subject matter, the courts, including the CFA, may develop legal rules and principles when deciding cases. These legal rules and principles are called “common law” or “case law”.

What is the relationship between the NPCSC and the CFA?

In accordance with the Basic Law, the CFA is authorized to interpret on its own, provisions of the Basic Law within the autonomy of the HKSAR. However, the CFA must refer a question of interpretation to the NPCSC if the provision of the Basic Law in question relates to affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People’s Government, or concerning the relationship between the Central Authorities and the HKSAR. Referral only needs to be made if it is necessary to interpret such provisions of the Basic Law, and if there is an arguable case. The resulting interpretations of the NPCSC are binding on the courts.

How many cases are disposed of in a year by the CFA?

The numbers vary from year to year, as shown in the table below:

Year Substantive Appeals Leave Applications Other Interlocutory Applications
Civil Criminal Total Civil Criminal Total
2014 23 11 34 46 69 115 4
2015 19 7 26 53 70 123 11
2016 15 18 33 68 61 129 4
2017 18 13 31 68 57 125 27
2018 11 25 36 57
80 137 9
2019 7 15 22 133
41 174 3
2020 15 6 21 314
60 374 11
2021 6 10 16 539
69 608 6
2022 7 4 11 574
29 603 11
2023 11 11 22 326
46 372 25

The figures in brackets indicate the number of leave applications arising from non-refoulement claims disposed of in a year.

Does the CFA provide advice on legal matters?

No, the CFA does not provide advice on legal matters.