Police and the law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 November, 1997, 12:00am

Something very disturbing seems to be happening at the airport police station. In August, two robbery suspects walked free after claiming Team One of the Kowloon East Regional Crime Squad used water torture to force them to falsely confess in an interview room at the station. Yesterday, a man charged with murder was similarly set free after alleging he was subjected to the same torture in the same room at the same station by the same team.

Such accusations are not unusual. One survey found almost half of those who made confessions in a two-month period claimed they were forced to do so by police threats or assaults. But only in exceptional circumstances, where there are strong grounds for doubting the confession, will the court intervene. Yesterday's case falls into this category, with medical evidence pointing towards an assault and a disputed confession that was only made in writing when video equipment was readily available.

While the police have promised an investigation, they insisted there is no 'hard and fast rule' on videoing confessions, although this is one of the most effective safeguards against their fabrication. This again shows why Hong Kong needs an independent investigations body.

It seems likely this is not the only station where such practices occur. In February, a sex-murder trial collapsed after accusations of police brutality. Monitoring groups hear of many such cases and were so concerned they raised the issue at last year's UN hearings on human rights. But since the Government resists creating an independent complaints body it will have to be left to the police to put their own house in order, with the courts acting as the final guarantor of defendants' rights.

Those who beat suspects defeat the purpose of a justice system. Unfortunately it seems that Hong Kong has some police officers who do not understand this.