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  • Hong Kong Legal Principles: Important Topics for Students and Professionals
  • Pitman B. Potter (bio)
Stephen D. Mau . Hong Kong Legal Principles: Important Topics for Students and Professionals. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006. xlx, 506 pp. Softcover $49.50, Isbn 962-209-778-2.

Since the reversion of Hong Kong to sovereign control of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1997, much of the attention of international scholars working on Hong Kong has shifted to the Hong Kong–China relationship. The field of legal studies is no exception, as ongoing efforts to explore the potential for harmonization between Hong Kong and Chinese constitutional law; conflicts of private law issues; reciprocal influences of taxation, investment, and dispute resolution regimes; and other trans-boundary matters have tended to dominate legal scholarship about Hong Kong. While these are issues of undoubted importance, the attention paid to them has tended to diminish appreciation of the importance of Hong Kong law as a distinct body of legal principles. Stephen Mau's book is an important corrective to this trend.

Although the book's title refers to students and professionals, the author makes clear that these are not intended to be law students and legal professionals, but rather university students and professionals who require a solid familiarity with the law, even though this may not be at the standard of professional practice. This puts the author in a difficult position of serving apparently contradictory purposes. On one hand, he must provide sufficient information to offer a text for nonspecialists that is sufficiently comprehensive and reliable to be useful—indeed, each of the chapters included in this book would constitute an entire text of its own for a standard law school class. On the other hand, the author must avoid the impression that addressing his work to nonspecialists rather than trying to satisfy law school teaching requirements or professional practice standards in some way diminishes the value of the work. The author does a very credible job of meeting this challenge and as a result has produced an extremely useful volume.

Presented as a textbook surveying foundational legal topics of contract, tort, employment, property, and conveyance, Mau's text addresses the foundations of private law in Hong Kong. In each section, particular attention is paid to issues of conceptual framing and definition, elements needed to create specific types of legal relationships, and a range of enforcement-related questions. The work is thoroughly footnoted, offering readers references to a comprehensive selection of leading cases. The work makes excellent use of a scenario approach, which illustrates the relations between contract, tort, and employment law, and in other sections makes good use of hypotheses drawn from existing cases. In this way, the author is able to illustrate the operation of basic, legal principles in terms of day to day life that readers will readily appreciate. [End Page 521]

In the wake of steady efforts by the PRC government to assert the primacy of PRC law, even while acknowledging China's treaty commitments to respect Hong Kong's autonomy, scholarly efforts to depict and analyze the foundational legal principles for the Hong Kong legal system are most welcome. In contrast to a PRC system where judicial decisions often make scant reference to legal authorities and that devote only passing attention to legal analysis, the analytical treatment of Hong Kong legal principles offered in this volume provides an invaluable comparative perspective. This volume reveals the extent to which law in the PRC can potentially be informed by reliable and legitimate legal authority and rigorous legal analysis that informs law in other parts of greater China. Whether aimed at nonspecialist students and professionals seeking to gain a thorough understanding of important aspects of private law in Hong Kong, or at scholars interested in the potentialities for development of legal principles in the greater China, this volume will be an important resource. One can only hope that the model of legal thought represented by this volume, possibly coupled with parallel efforts in Taiwan, can inform and inspire legal communities in mainland China to pursue similar levels of attention to legal principles.

Pitman B. Potter

Pitman B. Potter is a...


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