Hong Kong’s top court has ruled that compulsory haircuts for male prisoners amount to sexual discrimination, ending a former pro-democracy legislator’s lengthy legal battle against the city’s prison authorities who forced him to crop his shoulder-length locks while serving a brief jail sentence in 2014.
The ruling by the Court of Final Appeal is the culmination of a six-year case filed by Leung Kwok-hung, nicknamed “Long Hair” for his trademark look, against the Correctional Services Department after it refused his request to be spared of a compulsory haircut.
A panel of top judges – including Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li – unanimously ruled that Leung’s rights had been breached under sexual discrimination laws when his hair was cut in jail.
The judges rejected the department’s assertion that hair length was tied closely to custodial discipline.
“It is not readily apparent, and no explanation was provided by the [commissioner of correctional services], as to why this had any reasonable connection with custodial discipline,” Ma said.
Ma also said the department, which argued it was only imposing a social norm, had failed to explain the basis of their suggestion that men always had shorter hair.
Hong Kong prison authorities insist all male inmates keep their hair cut short, but female convicts are allowed to grow theirs long if they wish.
While the department argued there was a need to give less prominence to individuality, Ma said: “It is difficult to accept, without a proper explanation, why individual choices should be denied to male prisoners but not female ones, and what this selective denial of choices has to do with a de-emphasis on individuality anyway.”
Leung was jailed for four weeks for criminal damage and disorderly behaviour in June 2014, stemming from an incident at a public forum in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sept 1, 2011.
The request of the prison officers at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre to cut his hair, which was shorn off despite Leung’s threat of court action, prompted the judicial challenge. (Source: Bangkok Post)