Lawmakers uneasy over police power to strip-search

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2008, 12:00am

Legislators have called for a review of new police guidelines that authorise duty officers to conduct intrusive searches of detainees - even to the point of removing underwear.

The security panel met yesterday to discuss the guidelines, which took effect on Tuesday last week, after police were criticised for strip-searching a domestic worker in an 'insulting manner' in May.

New measures under the internal guidelines for police include requiring the duty officer to explain to a detainee why and how the search will be done, and to record the scope of the search. There are three categories: 'non-removal of clothing', 'removal of clothing' and 'removal of underwear' - which may involve the exposure of detainees' genitals.

Detainees are now given an acknowledgement form to sign before the search, which specifies the reasons for - and the manner in which - the search is done.

Under the guidelines, anyone to be detained in police custody will be searched, and the duty officer will determine the level of intrusiveness on a case-by-case basis. Strip-searches, it says, should not be done routinely, and require strong justification.

However, legislators said the new measures did little to protect detainees' rights. Democrat James To Kun-sun said the guidelines left the door open for police to strip-search.

Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said strip-searches could be 'humiliating and intrusive'. She suggested that the duty officer be required to get authorisation from a superior before conducting a strip-search.