Her Majesty's pleasure is sentence of court

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 1997, 12:00am

I refer to 'Right this wrong without delay' (South China Morning Post, April 24) from Patricia Byrne, a member of the Prisoners' Friends' Association concerning prisoners detained at Her Majesty's pleasure (HMP).

It is not correct to say that persons detained at HMP are 'awaiting sentencing'. An order by a court (under the Criminal Procedure Ordinance) that a juvenile convicted of murder be detained 'until Her Majesty's pleasure shall be known' is in fact the sentence of the court.

Prisoners so detained have their cases reviewed regularly by the Board of Review, Long Term Prison Sentences (BOR, LTPS). The board is chaired by a judge of the High Court and its members are drawn from various backgrounds, including psychology, psychiatry, social work, the legal profession, education and business.

The board examines the circumstances pertaining to a prisoner at the time of review and can recommend to the governor that the prisoner's sentence be changed to a determinate one through the exercise of the governor's power under Article XV of the Letters Patent. As from July 1, the Chief Executive will be empowered under Article 48(12) of the Basic Law to pardon persons convicted of criminal offences or commute their penalties. We are aware that in the light of the change in sovereignty, it may not be appropriate to continue to refer to persons being detained at 'Her Majesty's pleasure.' We are arranging for a suitable amendment in the law to avoid confusion that may arise from this term.

In the light of the outcome of a recent judicial review application by an HMP prisoner, the governor has directed fresh reviews be carried out in respect of the cases of all prisoners detained at HMP under the Criminal Procedure Ordinance.

Meanwhile, the Government introduced the Long-term Prison Sentences Review Bill into the Legislative Council on March 19. The proposals contained in the bill will further enhance the transparency, efficiency and fairness of the present prison sentence review and remission system.

A statutory BOR, LTPS will be established. All prisoners at Her Majesty's pleasure will be entitled to a fresh review of their detention by an independent statutory body to consider their suitability for release. We hope that the bill could be enacted as soon as possible so that early improvements to our present system can be put in place.

ALEX FONG for Secretary for Security