Light Punishment to Harbour Violent Police Officers?

Press release

15 August 1999

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor today questions the inappropriately light punishment administered to officers who have assaulted suspects or innocent members of the public. It fears that the police are allowed to harbour violent officers in the force by enabling such unruly elements to continue to carry guns around, interrogate suspects and hurt innocent people.

Human Rights Monitor predicts an increase in suspicious deaths in police custody if the force is allowed to pass inappropriately light punishment on or harbour violent unruly officers.

Among the cases revealed in the past two years by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), 8 police officers have been clearly found to have assaulted suspects or innocent members of the public. All eight got an entry in their record of service about their respective assault. Four were given advice whilst another one was reprimanded. And that is all the "punishment" they received.

"We found such disproportionately light punishments both astonishing and disturbing. The public will be outraged if these were the only punishments administered," said LAW Yuk Kai, director of Human Rights Monitor.

He criticises severely the disciplinary system of the police force which apparently fails to discharge culprit officers, who were found to have beaten up suspects or innocent members of the public.

"When there is insufficient evidence to convict these officers in a criminal proceeding in which the standard of proof is very onerous, disciplinary actions in a proper disciplinary system should be able to remove such officers with less onerous burden," said Mr. Law.

The system of having police policing themselves already makes complaints against police officers difficult to substantiate. The lack of an independent external check of disciplinary decisions by the police force makes it impossible for unruly bad apples in the force to be sufficiently punished.

While the IPCC has been advertised as an effective independent mechanism to monitor complaints against the police, it has absolutely no power to comment on the punishment the police force has decided on. Human Rights Monitor criticises the fact that the police force is an independent empire of its own, which is immune from external control on matters relating to disciplinary actions.

"Justice is something very remote under our complaint mechanism. The proportion of substantiated cases is extremely low. Less than 3% of the complaints were found to be substantiated over the years, most of which are minor allegations. All the effort put into making a culprit officer accountable however can easily be defeated by this kind of dark-box disciplinary process of the police force," said Mr. Law.

Human Rights Monitor would like to emphasize that unless the police give the public detailed and sound explanations as to why the punishments to all 8 officers have been so light, it would be useless to deny that they are harbouring violent unruly officers in the force.

"The police is supposed to be a disciplined force. Few, if any, Hong Kong people will accept the police force to harbour violent unruly officers. I hope the Chief Executive and the Commissioner were not among the exceptions," commented Mr. Law.

Human Rights Monitor urges the Commissioner of Police to come forward to explain in each and every case to the public, why these police officers reported and substantiated in the report have not been prosecuted. A second opinion by independent lawyers should also be sought to collaborate the police's explanation if it involves claims of inadequate evidence.

The group believes that this is only the tip of the problem as the IPCC has reported only a fraction of the cases which have been considered. It calls for the release of more information and transparency. It also finds the IPCC not very independent since it consults CAPO before publishing its own annual reports.

A Bill to give the IPCC statutory status was withdrawn in June 1997 by the Security Bureau after it has been amended by the then Legislative Council giving the IPCC power to investigate complaints against the police.

Human Rights Monitor is also disappointed at Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's lack of support for the IPCC, as evident in his failure to support the latter's view on Dick Lee's case (drowning the demonstration on the eve of handover) and more importantly for the failure of the Government to re-introduce the Independent Police Complaints Council Bill.

It calls on the Government to re-introduce as soon as possible the IPCC Bill but with amendments giving the IPCC investigative powers and the power to discipline unruly police officers.

(Note: The IPCC has clarified in its meeting on Monday, 16 August 1999 that it had sent its draft annual report to the police for verifying facts like statistics and case summaries only and that it had never consulted the IPCC on other aspects of the report. Human Rights Monitor congratulates the efforts made by the IPCC to maintain its independence in its work.)

1999 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

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