Indefinite jail terms for youths slammed
Lawmakers call for a stop to detaining juveniles 'at chief executive's discretion'
Juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment should know when they will be freed, rather than being given indefinite jail terms, lawmakers said yesterday.
They urged the government to adopt a British-style tariff system instead of the minimum-sentence approach.
Unionist legislator Leung Yiu-chung told the Legislative Council's security panel: 'The tariff should be regarded as the maximum sentence imposed on them [unless] they commit serious mistakes [while in prison].'
Legco's legal sector representative, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, said: 'You ought to have something like a date, so that, unless I commit another crime or wrongdoing, I will be able to go free.'
The fate of juvenile prisoners previously detained 'at Her Majesty's Pleasure' has long been a matter of concern.
The responsibility for giving them a minimum sentence was shifted from the queen to the chief executive after the handover, and they are now deemed held 'at the chief executive's discretion'. There are 25 such prisoners in Hong Kong.
Their sentences are regarded as indefinite because, after serving the minimum sentence set by the chief executive, their release hinges on the recommendations of the Long-term Prison Sentences Review Board.
Michael Scott, senior assistant solicitor-general, said prisoners serving these indeterminate sentences could petition the chief executive, who would seek the board's advice in determining whether to grant them their freedom.
The government yesterday presented a proposed amendment to the Criminal Procedure Ordinance which would leave it up to the courts, rather than the chief executive, to determine these prisoners' fate.
The amendment would bring the law into compliance with a Court of First Instance ruling last year.
Lawmakers also urged the government to draft an amendment to change the minimum-sentence system.