Victim support

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 1998, 12:00am

The mother of Chan Kwok-keung, killed by an officer in a police interview room, has every reason to be upset that she was not informed the case was being heard in court. Thursday's proceedings were supposed to be a preliminary hearing behind closed doors. When the prosecution, which had been pressing for a conviction for murder, accepted a plea of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, the judge ordered a trial be held immediately. Chan Ho Wai-fong, the victim's mother, should have been informed straight away. At the very least, an attempt should have been made to contact her once the judge had made the decision. Better still, she should have been forewarned, once the prosecution had accepted the plea, that the judge might order a trial.

Instead, she learned the officer had admitted manslaughter only at 5pm when the trial was already over. The police say they did apologise for the delay at the time - but that will have been of small consolation. It also suggests the police were aware before making the call that they had not followed procedures. How long before lifting the receiver had they deliberated about how to handle the matter? Mrs Chan can be forgiven for believing the police were trying to rush the case to preserve their public image and avoid more media scrutiny. Even if the police were not deliberately trying to play the killing down, there has clearly been a breach of the Victims' Charter which states that victims' families should be kept informed of the progress of a prosecution. The family have a right to be furious.

But this disgraceful incident will at least have served some purpose, if the Government now revisits the proposal, rejected two years ago, to give victims the right to address the judge before sentencing. Not only would this give mothers, like Mrs Chan, some small channel for relief, it would also give them the right to attend court. Incidents such as Thursday's would be much harder to explain away.