Court confirms tort of harassment in Hong Kong

In 2013, the case of Lau Tat Wai v Yip Lai Kuen Joey established the tort of harassment as a part of the common law in Hong Kong, in order to (quoting the Judge) “protect the people of Hong Kong who live in a small place and in a world where technological advances occur in leaps and bounds. Intrusion on privacy is difficult to prevent and it is hard for the victim to escape the harassment.” The watershed decision was previously reported by Tanner De Witt.

In a recent judgment concerning harassment caused by debt collectors, the District Court has further enhanced the position of the tort of harassment in Hong Kong.

Facts

Although Hong Kong’s Court system provides a legal and relatively swift resolution to recover a simple debt owed, many people or companies still engage collectors to recover debts owed to them. The debt collectors often resort to acts of intimidation and harassment in an attempt to force payment out of the target quickly.

The Plaintiff’s domestic helper borrowed HK$3,000 from licenced money lenders which she failed to repay. The lender hired a debt collector by assigning the debt to the collector. Pursuant to the Loan Assignment Agreement between the lender and the debt collector, the debt was to be collected in a “legal manner”. But often debt collectors will go to great lengths and intimidate and harass the targets to recover debts.

The debt collector began calling the Plaintiff incessantly demanding her to repay her domestic helper’s loan. The debt collector repeatedly used foul language and often used threatening words against the Plaintiff and her family members.

The Plaintiff hired solicitors to warn the lender to call off the debt collectors. However, the Plaintiff and her family continued to receive harassing calls with intimidating messages. Even the solicitors began to receive unanswered phone calls. The Plaintiff also received posts from the debt collector that contained letters with her personal data with various warnings and a pile of paper money, often used by the Chinese to pray to dead ancestors. The harassment continued for almost one month.

The Plaintiff sued the lender for damages, including compensation for mental disturbance, humiliation, damage to dignity and fear; and injury to feelings for unlawful collection and using of the Plaintiff’s personal data.

The Judge awarded a total of HK$500,000 in damages (both aggravated and exemplary damages) and for the lender to pay for the Plaintiff’s legal costs. It was also decided that the lender, and not the debt collector, was solely responsible for carrying out the acts, as the payment notices sent to the domestic helper contained the lender’s contact and account details. The debt collector was therefore acting on behalf of the lender.

Mark Side / Anthony Marrin

For more information regarding this case and the tort of harassment, please contact our Litigation and Dispute Resolution Solicitors Mark Side and Anthony Marrin.

Mark Side
Partner | Email

Anthony Marrin
Solicitor | Email

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