Negotiation and settling of commercial disputes could soon be moved online in Hong Kong, thanks to a HK$150 million platform, as part of a plan to boost the city’s status as a regional arbitration hub.
The electronic business related arbitration and mediation (eBRAM) system, which is expected to slash arbitration costs, was first advocated by justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah in 2017 when she was still in private practice. The system is co-founded and supported by the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society, among others. The city government has given backing of HK$150 million (US$19.1 million) for its first six years. Pending the legislature’s approval, it could launch in the fourth quarter of 2019 or in early 2020. Nicholas Chan Hiu-fung, chairman of the eBRAM Centre, which runs the platform, said “You rarely see the Bar Association and Law Society jointly cooperate in setting up a non-profit company, and that shows the legal profession agrees with the vision of going online.” Mr Chan says the idea of conducting mediation or arbitration online has been floated for more than a decade, though with limited commercial application around the globe, but “We are the first and only platform in the world that comes with both deal making and dispute resolution online.” He explained eBRAM has a bigger ambition of reshaping how cross-border transactions are done in Asia.
Mr Chan said the platform would first attract companies to negotiate and e-sign contracts with the help of its AI-powered translation service and blockchain storage system, which could stop anyone amending the original copy once it was submitted. He said if a deal turned sour, the parties involved could go through mediation or later arbitration by appointing a panel of lawyers to adjudicate. The mediator or arbitrator could hear the case over video conferencing and read documents filed online before issuing a verdict on the platform. A March 2019 legislative counsel panel discussion paper stated such a platform will “enhance the development of LawTech in Hong Kong and consolidate Hong Kong’s position as an international legal and dispute resolution services centre and raise Hong Kong’s favourable position and status in the provision of professional legal services.” Mr Chan said that while the parties would be encouraged to adopt Hong Kong law, they could also choose the laws of other jurisdictions to settle the case.