Bill a major step in the right direction
I refer to your editorial of February 4, headlined, 'Winning public trust', concerning the police complaints system in Hong Kong.
Contrary to what your editorial seems to suggest, the existing police complaints system, that is, investigation by a police unit, Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), separate from the rest of the police force but monitored and reviewed by an independent civilian body, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), is operating effectively.
The results of CAPO investigations are subject to vigorous scrutiny by the IPCC before they are endorsed. If not satisfied with CAPO's investigations, the IPCC can draw a case to the attention of the Governor.
The IPCC consists of non-official members appointed by the Governor, representing a wide spectrum of personalities from all walks of life including members of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council.
Our police complaints system in Hong Kong is not out of step with other overseas police jurisdictions. Indeed, ours is one of the most sophisticated systems in Asian countries; there are countries for which there is no civilian oversight body at all.
Over the years, we have implemented a number of measures to improve the existing system. We have, for example: (a) Installed closed-circuit television, video or tape-recording facilities in the CAPO in September 1994 to ensure transparency during interviews.
(b) Introduced the IPCC Observers Scheme in April 1996, so that IPCC members may participate in scheduled and surprise observations of CAPO investigations.
(c) Supported the IPCC interviewing witnesses, including both the complainant and the complainee since July 1994, and, (d) Enhanced publicity about the police complaints system and the independent monitoring role of the IPCC.
We are, however, not complacent with the improvements made so far.
Arising from an IPCC review of the investigation procedures of CAPO and the comparative study of police complaints systems elsewhere, we are implementing a package of additional measures to further enhance the transparency and credibility of the existing system including: (a) Setting up a special IPCC panel to monitor serious cases, after which it will submit its findings in a special report to the Governor.
(b) Tightening up CAPO procedures to prevent any 'tipping-off' to officers against whom complaints are lodged.
(c) Gauging public opinion towards the overall performance of the force including the police complaints system, with regular surveys and research.
(d) Setting time limits on CAPO in handling complaints and keeping a complainant informed of progress as far as possible, and, (e) Opening part of the IPCC meetings to the public.
On top of these, the IPCC Bill will make the IPCC a statutory body and provide a firm legal basis for the IPCC to discharge its duties. The bill would empower the IPCC, among other things, to require the Commissioner of Police to investigate or re-investigate any complaint against the police, to interview any witnesses including the complainants and complainees, and to require the Commissioner of Police to provide an explanation in respect of any action taken in respect of a complaint. In certain serious cases, the IPCC will also submit a special report to the Governor with its findings and recommendations.
In drawing up the IPCC Bill and the improvement packages, we have carefully considered the IPCC's proposal of appointing non-police personnel to CAPO or appointing a civilian head of CAPO. Our considered view is that the police are best-placed to investigate complaints against police which often involve allegations of breach of criminal law, for which non-police personnel do not have the necessary expertise and knowledge to undertake.
Nor is it appropriate for non-police personnel to take over criminal investigations for which the responsibility lies with the police.
Notwithstanding this, both the administration and the IPCC agree that the introduction of the IPCC Bill, together with the package of improvement measures, is a major step in the right direction and will enhance public confidence in the existing system.
PETER LAI Secretary for Security