Boat people wrongly freed, court rules

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 December, 1997, 12:00am

More than 270 boat people were wrongly freed because a judge misinterpreted the law, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

'The result of this decision will mean the deprivation of the liberty of the appellants, who have been deprived of their liberty for a long time,' Mr Justice Anthony Rogers said.

But immigration authorities will allow the 119 Chinese-Vietnamese families to keep their freedom until their next court battle in early January.

The boat people will then go before the Court of First Instance to fight a removal order, which would force them to resettle in mainland China.

They were released from High Island detention centre on November 9 after Mr Justice Brian Keith ruled they were being held illegally.

Mr Justice Barry Mortimer, Mr Justice Gerald Godfrey and Mr Justice Rogers overturned that decision yesterday.

The judges said Mr Justice Keith had been wrong to free the boat people just because the Government's illegal refusal to screen them had kept them under lock and key for years.

'General questions of fairness and justice in habeas corpus proceedings are not relevant,' Mr Justice Mortimer said.

The Privy Council ruled last year that the Government had erred in refusing to screen the boat people for refugee status.

The families, who fled Vietnam during the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979, have since been recognised as refugees but have been ordered to resettle in the mainland.

The Government claims they are not legitimate refugees because they spent time in the mainland before coming to Hong Kong.

The 119 families have been living at the New Horizons open camp near Kai Tak since their release from High Island detention centre.