July 1, 1997, the People's Republic of China resumed the exercise
of sovereignty over Hong Kong. To maintain national unity and
territorial integrity and Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, the
Chinese government, in accordance with the "one country, two
systems" policy and provisions of the Constitution, set up the Hong
Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). The HKSAR bases all its
institutional setup, including the legal structure, on the Basic
Law of the HKSAR.
According to the Basic Law of the HKSAR and other laws of Hong
Kong, the judicial organ of the HKSAR consists of courts at all
levels that exercise judicial powers and other bodies such as the
Department of Justice that exercise prosecution powers.
- Grassroots courts: district courts, magistrates' courts and
- High courts: Court of Appeal and the Court of First
Note: Sources from Xiong Xianjue, New Views on China's Judiciary
and Its System, China Legal Press, 1998.
Hong Kong has four district courts that adjudicate civil and
criminal cases within their jurisdiction. In addition, it has nine
Magistrates' Courts that are the primary courts for criminal cases.
The High Court exercises judicial powers on civil and criminal
cases, while the Court of Final Appeal exercises the final judicial
Article 63 of the Basic Law of the HKSAR states, "The Department of
Justice of the HKSAR controls criminal prosecutions, free from any
interference." The Department of Justice is the largest legal
institution in Hong Kong, a unique, complicated and diversified
department. Its responsibilities involve legislation, judicial
administration, prosecution, civil representation, legal and policy
drafting and reform, and the legal profession. In terms of nature
and mission, it is similar to the US Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice as the prosecution, aside from
prosecuting criminal cases in Hong Kong, also appears in court on
behalf of the government in all civil (including administrative)
lawsuits against the government. As the protector of public
interests, it can apply for a judicial review; it can also appear
in court on behalf of public interests to participate in the trial
of cases that involve material public interests. It also informs
courts of acts of contempt of court and assist courts in its
operations. The attorney general is the legal counsel to the HKSAR
government and the Chief Executive. In a word, except for judicial
power, the Department of Justice almost handles everything
December 20, 1999, the Chinese government resumed exercise of
sovereignty over Macao and the Macao Special Administrative Region
(MSAR) was established. According to the Basic Law of the MSAR,
MSAR practices a high degree of autonomy and exercises independent
judicial and final-appeal powers. This constitutes the cornerstone
of the judiciary of the MSAR.
The MSAR has a three-tier court system: lower, intermediate and
final-appeal courts. There is no district court because of the
limited geographical size of the region. There are, therefore, few
special courts; only administrative courts are created.
Lower courts in the MSAR are first-instance courts which, depending
on needs, can have special tribunals for criminal, civil or
These courts exercise part of the powers that used to be exercised
by the High Court before Macao's return to China.
These are special courts for handling administrative, taxation and
customs cases and they are lower courts. Litigants who object to
their ruling can appeal to intermediate courts.
the name indicates, the final-appeal court exercises the power of
The MSAR's prosecution exercises the following nine powers:
- Participate in lawsuits on behalf of the Macao region,
municipal government and persons with legal disabilities;
- Bring criminal actions and appear in courts in support of
public prosecution during trials of criminal cases;
- Maintain judicial independence and enforce court rulings;
- Represent laborers and their dependents in courts;
- Lead criminal investigations and supervise the police;
- Prevent crimes and participate in lawsuits involving bankruptcy
and public interests;
- Provide legal counseling to the Governor (Chief
- Protest undue rulings of courts;
- Exercise other powers as granted by law
The prosecution of the MSAR is an independent body. It enjoys a
status similar to the Supreme People's Procuratorate of the
People's Republic of China, but there is a major difference between
the two: the Chief Prosecutor of the MSAR's prosecution is
nominated by the Chief Executive and appointed by the central
government; the prosecutors are appointed and removed by the Chief
Executive. Therefore, the MSAR prosecution is under strict scrutiny
and supervision of the Chief Executive.
The "central government" in Taiwan has established five "Yuan"
(house) for executive, legislative, judicial, impeachment and
The "Judicial Yuan" has a unique position in the government. It has
a "president" and a "vice president," a secretary general and a
deputy secretary. The "Judicial Yuan" has a panel of 17 justices.
It consists of common courts, administrative courts,
public-servants disciplinary committee and various other
committees. The "Judicial Yuan" exercises wide-ranging powers,
including civil, criminal and administrative judicial powers,
public-servants disciplinary powers and the power to interpret the
"Constitution" and laws. In addition, the various committees under
the "Judicial Yuan" also exercise their own powers.
Organizational Chart of the "Judicial Yuan"
The "Ministry of Justice" is subordinate to the "Executive Yuan" in
charge of administrative affairs related to prosecution, prison
management and judicial protection, as well as legal affairs of the
"Executive Yuan." The "Minister of Justice" oversees the operation
of the ministry and prison management. There is an "executive
minister" and an "assistant minister" under the "minister."
Organizational Chart of "Ministry of Justice"
Organizations Affiliated to the "Ministry of Justice"
Taiwan has a three-tier court system: Supreme Court, High Courts,
and District Courts. Their interrelationship is of a judicial
rather than a hierarchical nature.
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial organ in Taiwan and the
court of final appeal. It has five civil tribunals and five
High Courts are established in the provinces or special regions and
represent the second tier of Taiwan's court system. Each High Court
has several tribunals for civil and criminal trials. Each tribunal
has a presiding judge and two judges. Special courts may also be
set up. Other institutions include a public prosecutor, criminal
archive center and clerks.
These courts, the lowest in the court system, are set up in
counties or cities. If the county or city is small, a court may be
set up for several counties or cities; on the other hand, if the
county or city is too large, branch courts may be set up. Local
courts are usually presided over solely by one judge. Cases of
major proportion are presided over by a panel of three judges.
Chart of Courts at Various Levels and Their Major
Taiwan has a three-tier prosecution system: the Supreme Court's
Prosecution Department, High Courts' Prosecution Division and
District Courts' Prosecution Section. All belong to the "Ministry
of Justice," which, in turn, is under the "Executive Yuan."
- Prosecution Department of the Supreme Court
This department consists of one prosecutor-general and a number of
prosecutors. The prosecutor-general oversees prosecution affairs,
and implements programs and drafts work plans.
- Prosecution Divisions of High Courts
Each division has a chief prosecutor and several prosecutors.
- Prosecution Sections of District Courts
Like their higher counterparts, each of these sections has a chief
prosecutor and a number of prosecutors, with the chief prosecutor
responsible for supervising prosecution affairs of that court,
disciplining court staff, and evaluating their performance.