Hong Kong’s high court has ruled the government breached its bill of rights on protection from torture and cruel treatments by failing to provide an independent mechanism for complaints against police brutality.
The city’s police force was once one of the most respected in Asia, but its reputation was vastly diminished as the rolling protests last year descended into violence, including numerous instances and allegations of police brutality that went unpunished.
The court’s ruling came at the same time that a report by international experts said officers’ crowd-control tactics last year had radicalised protesters and worsened perceptions of the force’s legitimacy.
Thursday’s case was brought by the Hong Kong Journalists Association after the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, said there was no need for any complaints system outside the existing one overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).
The high court ruled that system was inadequate to discharge the government’s obligations under the bill of rights, and the government was duty-bound to establish one that was independent.
The judge Anderson Chow said the police complaints department (Capo) was an unsegregated part of the police force, and could not be regarded as practically independent. The IPCC was practically independent but lacked the powers to investigate and could not overturn Capo’s decisions, he said.
Chow’s ruling also found that the failure of some officers to display their ID badges also violated the bill of rights by preventing investigation into allegations that they had breached its “absolute and non-derogable” protections against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
While he appreciated the concerns of officers being targeted, Chow said: “As a matter of principle, such concern cannot of itself override the duty to maintain an adequate system to investigate suspected cases of breach.”
The chair of the IPCC, Anthony Neoh, disputed the ruling, saying Capo was independent. But he would not be drawn on whether the IPCC should be given greater powers, RTHK reported.
“In an ideal world, of course it’s good to have independent investigations for everything, but we’re not in an ideal world,” Neoh said.
The court ruling and report come amid a worsening crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, including pressure on the judiciary. On Tuesday a senior Chinese official said “reforms” were under way.
Since the introduction of the national security law, dozens of activists and political figures have been arrested and pro-democracy legislators disqualified. (Source: The Guardian)