Bill will clip police watchdog's wings: chief

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2008, 12:00am

The Independent Police Complaint's Council could end up shielding abuses of power under a bill intended to raise the body's credibility, the watchdog's head has warned.

The council's chairman, Ronny Wong Fook-hum, said the bill's proposed system to lodge complaints resulted in 'having all the odds stacked against the complainant'.

Mr Wong made the comment at a Legco committee meeting on the bill, which would make the council a statutory body.

Officials said the bill aimed at enhancing the council's credibility and public confidence by 'codifying the existing police complaints system and putting in place clear provisions on [the council's ] ... powers'.

But in a submission to the Legco bills committee, the council highlights clause 20 of the bill, which it says could deny the watchdog full access to information on circumstances surrounding a complaint. It also points to clause 37 which, the council says, will in effect limit its power to make public the force's refusal to heed the council's advice.

Speaking at yesterday's meeting, Mr Wong said the bill could make the council 'an instrument being used to protect the police'.

He also said the system for defining whether a complaint was 'substantiated' would make it difficult for the public to hold the force responsible in a complaint.

'It in effect subsumes many police abuses and removes the complaints completely. The reports submitted by [police] are so written as to make sure the results would be unsubstantiated,' Mr Wong, whose term expires next month, said.

According to the force's annual report, the council investigated 3,518 complaints against the police in 2006. Of them, only 104 were considered 'substantiated'. Some 1,726 complaints were 'withdrawn', while 739 were dealt with through 'informal resolution'.

Legislator Joseph Lee Kok-long, also a vice-chairman of the council, echoed Mr Wong's views and criticised the bill for making the watchdog a rubber stamp. '[The council] should not be a shield to protect the police. It is supposed to protect public interest,' he said.

James To Kun-sun, a Democrat seeking to make the council a statutory body, warned that his party would vote against the bill.

Deputy Secretary for Security Jessie Ting Yip Yin-mei said the bill was written well enough. Referring to the council's powers to get information, Mrs Ting said: 'We are committed to ensuring the IPCC has access to the relevant information for monitoring the handling of reportable complaints by the police. The bill has been drafted to enable the IPCC to have wide access to such information.'

The issue of turning the council into a statutory body dates to 1986 when a Police Complaints Committee was set up to monitor the Complaints Against Police Office (Capo).

Complaints against the force are examined by Capo - part of the force. Critics say Capo's decisions are biased mostly in favour of the force. The PCC was renamed the IPCC in 1994.