Apology Legislation In Hong Kong? What Kind Of A Stupid Law Is That?

from the soz dept

Here on Techdirt, we often write about laws, particularly stupid ones. A new law that is being considered in Hong Kong, to encourage people to make apologies, seems to fit the description nicely. Here’s the background, as given by the consultation paper seeking input on the idea (pdf):

In 2010, the Working Group on Mediation of the [Hong Kong] Department of Justice recommended, amongst other things, that the question whether there should be apology legislation dealing with the making of apologies for the purpose of enhancing settlement deserves fuller consideration by an appropriate body. In 2012, the Secretary for Justice established the Steering Committee on Mediation (?Steering Committee?) to further promote the development of mediation in Hong Kong. The Regulatory Framework Sub-committee set up under the Steering Committee has been tasked to consider whether there is a need to introduce apology legislation in Hong Kong. After reviewing the report prepared by the Regulatory Framework Sub-committee, the Steering Committee recommended the enactment of apology legislation in Hong Kong.

Here’s why it’s under consideration:

The main objective of the proposed apology legislation is to promote and encourage the making of apologies in order to facilitate the amicable settlement of disputes by clarifying the legal consequences of making an apology.

Apologizing after some mishap might be taken as a tacit admission of guilt, which could indeed have “legal consequences”, since the fear is naturally that doing so will be used against the party making the apology. As a result, people often restrain their natural instinct to say sorry. The consultation documents points out that’s likely to exacerbate the situation:

It is unfortunate that this is the perceived legal position as regards apologies, for the heat of the moment so commonly found in a dispute could have been extinguished (or at least reduced) by an apology or an expression of sympathy or regret, thus preventing the escalation of the dispute into legal action or making it more likely for the legal action to be settled.

Ironically, then, fear of the legal consequences of apologizing can mean that disputes are more likely to end up in court than they would had somebody quickly apologized. So apology legislation clarifying the legal effect of saying sorry makes a lot of sense, despite my erroneous initial thoughts. No wonder, then, as I learned from the consultation document, that similar laws are already found quite widely around the world — in 57 jurisdictions to be precise. Moreover, it seems that the idea was first introduced in the US:

Our research indicates that the first apology legislation was enacted in Massachusetts in 1986. The trend then spread to other states in the United States. At present over 30 states in the United States have apology legislation. Characteristics of the legislation vary. Some deem an apology not to be an admission of liability while others only limit the admissibility of an apology in court for certain purposes. It is noted that most of the apology legislation in the United States covers partial apology (i.e. apology that does not include an admission of fault) only and is targeted at civil actions against the health care profession or involving some other aspects of personal injuries only.

Clearly I owe the lawmakers of Hong Kong an apology for misjudging their eminently sensible legislative project.


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Comments on “Apology Legislation In Hong Kong? What Kind Of A Stupid Law Is That?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

May not as stupis as appears

If it was legislation mandating apologies, I would agree that it is stupid. But since it is for relieving liability for simply saying “I’m sorry,” I don’t have an issue with it.

Where I work, we are tacitly encouraged to not apologize for errors, especially on email, as intended or unintended recipients (such as people to whom the email is forwarded, or a citizen with a FOIA requested) can take the apology as an admission of guilt.

I’m pretty sure they also have people with nothing better to do than scan the internet for my comments, so I signed out for this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: May not as stupis as appears

…Where I work, we are tacitly encouraged to not apologize for errors, especially on email, as intended or unintended recipients (such as people to whom the email is forwarded, or a citizen with a FOIA requested) can take the apology as an admission of guilt

That ‘admission of guilt’ is WHY we need apology laws, because the courts (at least in the US) have actually held folks liable for simple and unavoidable accidents ONLY for the apology. No negligence, no malicious intent, only an apology and the defendant is liable. Apology laws are a step, but real tort reform is still needed.

mrtraver (profile) says:

My wife needs to read this article (but not this comment)

Here is a real conversation that happens almost daily at my house:

Wife: I stubbed my toe/cut my hand/feel sick/whatever.
Husband: I’m sorry.
W: Why, did you do it?
H: No, that was not an apology. I was merely expressing the emotion of sadness because my wife is hurt. It was not an admission of guilt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: My wife needs to read this article (but not this comment)

Is your wife by any chance Japanese? Something I remember from my Japanese language classes was that their word for sorry is explicitly only used in cases where it was somehow the apologizer’s fault. (they have other words/phrases for expressing sympathy where no fault was involved)

Apologize for wasting my time. says:

Minion startled by "erroneous initial thoughts", rightly ends, "I owe the lawmakers of Hong Kong an apology".

Another article which only points up that Techdirt “writers” just don’t understand law or business. Definitions are everything in law and lawyers are expert weasels is why has to be nailed down in statute.

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