21 October 2022
This paper contributes to an emerging body of empirical research on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal through the examination of the decisions of that Court’s Appeal Committee during its first 25 years. After offering the first systematic description of the Appeal Committee’s activities during that time, it discusses three key findings emerging from the data. First, the data suggests that, in line with Galanter’s theory of the relative advantages of repeat over one-off litigants, actors with greater institutional resources and iterated engagement with the legal system are more likely to be granted leave to appeal. Second, there is a clear positive correlation between the number of applicant counsel relative to the number of respondent counsel and a higher likelihood of being granted leave. This has implications for the equity and fairness of the appellate process, particularly with respect to criminal appeals. Third, when Justice Bokhary sat on the Appeal Committee as a Permanent Judge of the Court there was significantly higher likelihood of leave being granted than when he was not sitting while the opposite was true when a Chief Justice—particularly Chief Justice Li—sat. Finally, the concomitant rise of institutionally authored decisions on the Appeal Committee and the Full Court is discussed alongside directions for future research.