Screening of torture claims put to the test

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2008, 12:00am

A challenge to Hong Kong's system of screening torture claims by people claiming asylum will begin in the High Court today.

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly said the judicial review, focusing on six cases, would highlight several flaws in the government's approach.

'This case will investigate the fairness of the system they have set up,' Mr Daly said.

Hong Kong is a signatory to the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, a central pillar of which is the undertaking to not 'return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture'.

In June 2004, the Court of Final Appeal ruled the government was obligated to set up a fair process for evaluating people's claims that they faced torture if returned and could not, as had been the practice, simply rely on the unexplained reasons of the Hong Kong office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Mr Daly said six test cases from the roughly 70 that had been granted legal aid had been chosen to represent various fundamental flaws in the system, which is administered by the Immigration Department. 'We have a few choice nuggets about what's come out over the last few years.'

He said it was not just those seeking asylum who were critical of the present regime.

Announcing a review of the system early last month, the Immigration Department's assistant director for enforcement and litigation, Eric Chan Kwok-ki, said it had become bloated and was being abused by people making false claims to stay in the city a bit longer.

At that stage, just 250 of some 1,575 claimants had been assessed, and none of their claims had been substantiated.

Mr Daly said the way in which the government was approaching the issue left it ripe for abuse.

The review begins in the Court of First Instance this morning before Mr Justice John Saunders.

Rising tide

The number of asylum-seekers claiming torture rose from 528 in 2006 to 1,584 last year

The number of torture claims for the first three months of this year was: 612