Aid for torture victims precedes court case

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 April, 2006, 12:00am

Three days before a judicial review into its obligations towards two torture plaintiff families, the government set up a scheme to assist such groups.

The move prompted one lawyer to remark yesterday to the High Court on the administration's 'squeaky gate' syndrome.

It was the second time in two months that a judicial review has been adjourned indefinitely because the Social Welfare Department granted last-minute assistance to individuals awaiting the government's review of their torture claims.

The two families - one Sri Lankan and one Cameroonian - had survived in Hong Kong only by foraging through leftover vegetables at wet markets, said their lawyer, Mark Daly. He claimed an infant child of one of the families had at one point been fed a salt-water mixture. The Cameroonians have been in Hong Kong since 2001 and the Sri Lankans since 2004.

Philip Dykes SC, for the families, said the government appeared to subscribe to the 'squeaky gate school of litigation', implying that only by threatening legal action can such families get assistance because only 'the squeaky gate gets the grease'.

Mr Dykes was seeking a declaration that the government had a duty to assist such families and that the current policies amounted to 'degrading treatment'.

Anderson Chow SC, for the Social Welfare Department, told Court of First Instance Judge Anselmo Reyes that he had been told only yesterday morning about the new scheme, whereby torture claimants in need would be given assistance with temporary accommodation, food, daily necessities and limited travel expenses.

It is unclear whether all asylum seekers making claims with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would be able to access the service or only those who had filed claims under the Convention Against Torture.