香港法院释明内地法院判决的可采纳性

更新时间:2018-08-28 已浏览:806

介绍

在Capital Century Textile Co Ltd v Li Dianxiao案中(1),香港高等法院在决定是否采纳北京一法院早先在某刑事程序中作出的判决时,对Hollington v F Hewthorn & Co Ltd(2)案中的普通法原则背后的逻辑进行了分析。香港高等法院认为,根据香港普通法,Hollington案的原则并不禁止香港法院采用其他法院或仲裁机构在先前的判决中引用的事实证据(但法律结论则不然),只要该事实证据与香港的民事程序有相关性。

背景

截止2009年6月22日,本案的第一被告都是原告(某一在香港成立的公司)的前股东兼董事。其后,该被告称其将所持股份转让给了原告的另一位股东。

据称,在转让股份之前,第一被告收购并随后处置了一系列位于香港的房产,并从中获利。其中大多数房产据称均以第一被告的名义购买。其中有一套房产最初显然是以原告之名购入,但随后转让给了第一被告,后者据称又将该房产转让给第二被告。第二被告似乎被当作是第一被告的已经成年的儿子。

原告公司要求法院判决其获得房产的实际所有权,理由是购买房产的资金属于原告,亦或是第一被告是作为原告的信托人持有房产。至于据称被转让给第二被告的房产,原告公司要求法院判决第二被告是以推定信托人的身份为原告持有该房产。

第一被告辩称,其一直都是原告公司所有股份的实益所有权人,包括他人名下的股份。因此,即使原告有关房产的主张是正确的(原告也的确这样主张),相关的交易也可认为是由原告及其股东授权或批准进行的。

原告对此并不认同。原告称,第一被告是北京一家国有企业的员工,其作为该国企的受托人而持有登记在其名下的股份。原告还称,第一被告被任命为原告公司的股东及董事,并告知原告部分房产的实益所有权由该北京国企享有。

北京法院的刑事判决

北京市第二中级人民法院于2010年9月19日作出判决,第一被告被判贪污罪,并被判处有期徒刑15年,刑期为2008年8月29日至2023年8月28日(刑期包括第一被告被定罪前的拘留时间)。第一被告显然从2008年8月29日起便开始服刑。

北京法院的判决中包含对提交给法院的事实证据的整理(包括证人证据的援引和证据文件的内容),还包括第一被告与北京国企以及本案原告公司的关系及第一被告在两家公司中的职位。其中,根据检方在北京法院程序中的观点,原告公司是由第一被告根据北京国企的指示成立的。不过,第一被告的贪污罪的定罪与原告公司无关,也不涉及香港案件中的涉案房产。(3)

香港法院的判决

香港高院在其民事程序中所需处理的一个争议焦点是北京法院判决的可采性。北京法院的判决包含了法院的判决、司法调查结果,以及对提交给法院的事实证据的归纳。第二被告代表第一被告及其自己辩称,香港法院应该在审理过程中排除北京法院的判决,原因是该判决不可采纳,或者与案件无关。

香港法院首先分析了Hollington案的原则。根据该原则,除了在违反禁反言原则的情况下,其他法院或仲裁庭在早先的民事或刑事程序中作出的结论或事实结论在随后的法律程序中都不可采纳。但是,法院指出,虽然Hollington案的原则没有被推翻,但该原则也存在着争议。

法院接着考虑了英国近期的一个案件——Rogers v Hoyle(4)中,一审及上诉法官对于Hollington案原则的说理,并指出:Hollington案的原则的基础是对审判公平的要求;法院有责任通过评估当事方提交的证据来形成自己的观点;

在法院决定事实问题时,不应该受其他人观点的影响。因此,采用其他裁判者针对事实问题作出的结论,无论该证据多么可靠、完整,都会有损法院自身在审判中的地位;

作为一个法律问题,除审理法官以外的人的意见是与本案无关的,也不应被法院采纳;

Hollington案的原则并不排除早先判决中所援引的证据(例如证据文件的内容或者证人的证词)。法院指出,政府机构的调查报告中的陈述和报告就被Rogers案的法官采纳了。

需注意的是北京法院的判决中不仅包括法院针对第一被告指控的判决及事实依据,还包括对所提交的事实证据的综述(包括证人证词和相关文件)。在北京法院的程序中,证人证词中的一些内容涉及到第一被告与北京国企及原告公司之间的关系及其在两公司的职位,而这些证词与第一被告自己的辩护主张有所出入。

法院还考虑到传闻证据的可采性的相关规则,而事实上,法院并不认为该规则为解决是否可采纳北京法院的判决中对证据综述的问题提供了依据。证据的权衡应该由案件的审理法院决定。

法院最后认为,只要北京法院判决中的事实证据与香港法院审理的案件有关,就不应该通过Hollington案原则被排除。法院还认为,案件的审理法院应该完整地考量北京法院的判决,并排除任何其认为不应被采纳的部分。法院认为,这一行为已在案件的审理过程中得到很好的实行。

评论

香港很多争议解决律师对涉及到内地国有资产的民事程序都很熟悉。内地国有企业为开展香港业务而在香港成立公司,并任命其员工作为该香港公司的股东或董事(或同时兼任),本案为这种模式提供了一个很好的范本。由于香港公司实际上受该个人控制,内地企业可能在收回其位于香港的资产时遇到困难。例如,部分甚至全部资产可能被该个人通过香港公司进行处置。

为了搜集个人违法犯罪的证据,一个常见的障碍就是当证人都不在香港时,相关证据(尤其是证人证词)难以获取或者即使可以找到证人在哪里,他们也不能够或者不愿意到香港法院出庭作证。(5)对有意在香港民事案件中采用其他法域的法院或者仲裁庭早先作出的判决的当事人及其律师来说,尤其是当其他法院的判决中包含了通过其他方式难以获得的相关证据的有用综述时,本案应该是一个利好消息。(6)

另外,在行使案件管理自由裁量权以决定北京法院的判决中哪些部分是可以被采用的时候,香港法院的态度还是比较开放的。但是现实中,香港的初审法院的决定有时也有可能会受到在其他法院作出被采用判决的法院之级别的影响,也会受到某一方在证据中展现出来的行为的恶劣程度的影响。

但是,需要注意的是初审法院有义务维持审判公平。因此,对于其他法院或裁判机构的判决中的法律结论、事实结论、以及所含证据与本案的争议焦点无关时,对这部分判决是否应当采纳,法院会持谨慎态度。

 

注释:

来源:RPC律师事务所香港办公室

作者:David Smyth律师、秦牧(Milo Qin)律师

The Chinese translation was done by wechat account “仲裁研究智库”  and is for reference only. The original English article was originally published in the Litigation Newsletter of the International Law Office - www.internationallawoffice.com 

本文中文部分由微信公众号“仲裁研究智库”翻译,仅供参考。英文原文原载于Litigation Newsletter of the International Law Office - www.internationallawoffice.com  

 (1) [2018] HKCF1 729。本案涉及案件管理的自由裁量权,相关审理原定于2018年5月8日至15日之间进行。

 (2) Hollington v F Hewthorn & Co Ltd ([1943] KB 587)。

 (3)《证据条例》(香港法例第8章)第62节(“定罪等作为民事法律程序中的证据”)仅适用于某行为在香港特别行政区法院被定罪的情况。

 (4) Rogers v Hoyle ([2015] QB 265)。

 (5)本案也体现了法院一般对于延迟审理日期持迟疑态度,法院只愿意在例外情况下给与延期(进一步讨论参见“Absence from trial ill-advised”一文)。也可参见Sun Hing Cheong Textile Ltd v Chan Wai Ming ([2018] HKCFI 765)案和Ho Shan Shan v Fung Chiu Ling ([2018] HKCFI 964)案。

 (6)例如,对于在跨国或跨境争议中通过请求函或双边安排来采纳证据也有其自身限制(进一步讨论参见“Obtaining evidence in cross-border civil proceedings”一文)。


 以下为英文原文:

Court clarifies admissibility ofmainland court judgment

Introduction

In Capital Century Textile Co Ltd v Li Dianxiao (1) the High Court analysed the rationale behind the common law principle in Hollington v F Hewthorn & Co Ltd (2) when determining the admissibility of parts of an earlier judgment of a court in Beijing arising out of criminal proceedings. The court clarified that, under Hong Kong common law, the Hollington principle did not prevent the courts from admitting factual evidence (as opposed to judicial findings) referred to in an earlier judgment of another court or tribunal, provided that it is relevant to the civil proceedings in Hong Kong.

Background

The first defendant was a former shareholder and director of the plaintiff (a company incorporated in Hong Kong) until 22 June 2009, when he purportedly transferred his shares to another director of the plaintiff.

Before the share transfer the first defendant allegedly acquired and subsequently disposed of a number of properties in Hong Kong at a profit. Most of the properties were allegedly acquired in his name. One of the properties was apparently initially acquired in the plaintiff's name but later transferred to the first defendant, who in turn allegedly transferred it to the second defendant. The second defendant appears to have been treated as the first defendant's adult son.

The plaintiff company claimed declarations as to the beneficial ownership of the properties on the basis that the money used to acquire them belonged to the plaintiff or the properties were held by the first defendant on trust for the plaintiff. With regard to the property allegedly transferred to the second defendant, the plaintiff company sought a declaration that he had held it pursuant to a constructive trust for the plaintiff.

The first defendant alleged that he was at all material times the beneficial owner of all of the shares in the plaintiff company, including those held in others' names – therefore, even if the plaintiff's allegations regarding the properties were true (so the argument went), the relevant transactions could be regarded as having been authorised or ratified by the plaintiff and its shareholders.

This argument was denied by the plaintiff, which claimed that the first defendant had held the shares registered in his name as a trustee of a state-owned company in Beijing, of which the first defendant was an employee. The plaintiff also claimed that the first defendant was appointed to be the shareholder and director of the plaintiff company and had acknowledged that the Beijing company retained full beneficial ownership of some of the properties.

Beijing court judgment in criminal proceedings

By a judgment of the Second Intermediate People's Court in Beijing, dated 19 September 2010, the first defendant was convicted of corruption and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 15 years from 29 August 2008 to 28 August 2023 (the period of the sentence accounting for the first defendant's detention before conviction). The first defendant has apparently been serving the sentence at a prison in Beijing since 29 August 2008.

The Beijing court's judgment contained (among other things) a summary of the factual evidence presented to the court (including references to the evidence of witnesses and the content of documents) and of the first defendant's alleged relationships with and positions in both the Beijing and plaintiff companies. In particular, the prosecution's case in the Beijing court proceedings appears to have been that the plaintiff company was set up by the first defendant on the instruction of the Beijing company. However, the corruption offence of which the first defendant was convicted concerned neither the plaintiff company nor the properties in dispute in the proceedings in Hong Kong. (3)

Hong Kong court judgment

One of the issues before the court in the civil proceedings in Hong Kong concerned the admissibility of the earlier judgment of the Beijing court. That judgment contained the court's verdict, certain judicial findings and a summary of the factual evidence presented to it. The second defendant, on the first defendant's behalf and in his own right, sought to have the judgment of the Beijing court excluded from the evidence at the trial in Hong Kong on the basis that it was inadmissible or irrelevant.

The court began its analysis by considering the principle in Hollington – namely, that conclusions and factual findings in the judgment of another court or tribunal in earlier proceedings, whether civil or criminal, are inadmissible in subsequent proceedings, except for a certain kind of estoppel. However, the court noted that the Hollington principle, although not overruled, was the subject of some controversy.

The court then considered the deliberations of the first instance and appeal judges concerning the Hollington principle in the more recent English case Rogers v Hoyle, (4) noting that:

the foundation of the Hollington principle is the requirement of a fair trial;

it is the duty of a court to form its own findings through its own evaluation of the evidence submitted by the parties;

it was not proper for a court, in reaching its own decision on the facts, to be influenced by the opinion of someone else. Therefore, the admission of evidence of findings of fact of another decision maker, however reliable and competent, risked interfering with the court's role at trial;

the opinion of someone who is not the trial judge was, therefore, as a matter of law, irrelevant and not one to which a court should have regard; and

the Hollington principle did not apply to exclude evidence referred to in an earlier judgment (e.g., the contents of documents or the evidence of witnesses). The court noted that the statements or reported statements in an investigation report of a government agency had been admitted in the Rogers case.

It was noted that the judgment of the Beijing court contained not only the court's verdicts on the charges against the first defendant and the facts supporting them, but also a summary of the factual evidence presented (including the witness statements and certain documents). Some of the contents of the witness statements in the Beijing court proceedings dealt with the first defendant's alleged relationships with and positions in the Beijing and plaintiff companies and appeared to contradict parts of his defence.

The court also considered the rule concerning the admissibility of hearsay and, on the facts, did not consider that it provided any basis for contesting the admissibility of the summary of the evidence in the judgment of the Beijing court. The weight to be attached to that evidence was a matter for trial.

The court concluded that the statements of the factual evidence in the judgment of the Beijing court should not be excluded by the operation of the Hollington principle to the extent that they were relevant to the proceedings in Hong Kong. The court also considered that the trial judge could review the entire judgment of the Beijing court and disregard any parts which it considered inadmissible – in the court's opinion, that exercise was best done at trial.

Comment

Many dispute resolution lawyers in Hong Kong are familiar with civil proceedings in Hong Kong involving Chinese state-owned interests. This case involves a good example of how some state owned companies in China structure their businesses in Hong Kong by establishing a Hong Kong company of which the Chinese company's employee is appointed a shareholder, director or both. As the Hong Kong company is effectively controlled by the individual, the Chinese company can encounter obstacles when seeking to retrieve assets in Hong Kong – for example, some or all of those assets could be disposed of by the individual concerned through the Hong Kong company.

In attempting to gather evidence of an individual's alleged transgressions, a common problem is the difficulty in obtaining relevant evidence (especially witness statements) where witnesses are not in Hong Kong or – assuming that they can be located – are not able or willing to testify in court proceedings in Hong Kong. (5) The judgment in this case should be well-received by parties and their legal representatives who intend to use the earlier judgment of a court or tribunal in another jurisdiction in civil proceedings in Hong Kong, especially where that judgment contains a useful summary of relevant evidence which would otherwise be difficult to obtain. (6)

Further, in exercising a case management discretion to determine at trial which parts of the Beijing court's judgment should be admissible, the Hong Kong court was keeping its options open. The reality may sometimes be that the extent to which a trial court in Hong Kong considers the judgment of a court of another jurisdiction could be influenced by the seniority of that court and the degree to which the overall evidence suggests egregious conduct on the part of a party.

However, it should be noted that a trial court has a duty to ensure a fair trial – therefore, it will be reluctant to admit as evidence at trial those parts of the judgment of another court or tribunal which contain conclusions or findings on factual matters, or which contain evidence that is irrelevant to the issues being tried in the subsequent proceedings.

 

Endnotes:

(1) [2018] HKCF1 729. The decisions of the court involve the exercise of a case management discretion with respect to a trial that was due to take place between 8 and 15 May 2018.

 (2) Hollington v F Hewthorn & Co Ltd ([1943] KB 587).

 (3) Section 62 of the Evidence Ordinance (Cap 8) ("Convictions, etc. as evidence in civil proceedings") applies only with respect to a conviction for an offence before a court in Hong Kong SAR.

 (4) Rogers v Hoyle ([2015] QB 265).

 (5) The judgment of the court is also another recent example of the court's general reluctance to adjourn a trial date, save in exceptional circumstances (for further details please see "Absence from trial ill-advised"). See also Sun Hing Cheong Textile Ltd v Chan Wai Ming ([2018] HKCFI 765) and Ho Shan Shan v Fung Chiu Ling ([2018] HKCFI 964).

 (6) For example, letters of request and bilateral arrangements for taking evidence in cross-border or cross-boundary disputes can have their limitations (for further details please see "Obtaining evidence in cross-border civil proceedings").