Lawmakers fear police watchdog will be weak

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am

The police watchdog may be weakened rather than strengthened after it becomes a statutory body, lawmakers have said.

Their comments followed a revelation that the government, under a proposed bill, would not give the Independent Police Council some key powers it had sought.

According to the new Independent Police Council Bill, the watchdog would not gain full access to information on circumstances surrounding complaints, council chairman Ronny Wong Fook-hum told a Legislative Council bills committee studying the proposed law.

The police commissioner would also have the power not to comply with recommendations from the council if it 'would likely prejudice the security of Hong Kong or the investigation of any crime'.

The commissioner would also be able to withhold legal advice relevant to a complaint investigation on grounds of legal professional privilege and would consider the right to information on a case-by-case basis.

Under the bill, 'the police commissioner can ignore our requirements by the mere reason that compliance would prejudice the investigation of a petty offence', Mr Wong said. The government expects the council to become a statutory board by the first half of next year.

Lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee yesterday said the council would be unable to appeal to the chief executive after claiming statutory status. She said she feared the constraints would weaken its ability to discharge its functions.

The police force lacked trust in the watchdog and feared it would leak details of anti-crime operations, James To Kun-sun, deputy chairman of the Legco security panel, said.

'Other law enforcement agencies do not have such clauses and there is no reason for the police force to enjoy the privileges,' he said.

Deputy Secretary for Security Jessie Ting Yip Yin-mei said such rules were in line with current practice. Assistant police commissioner Ma Wai-luk said the force would be unlikely to give information if it involved, for example, undercover officers.