Detainees get strip-search form

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 February, 2009, 12:00am

Detainees in police custody are being given a form explaining the reasons and scope for intrusive searches, officials told lawmakers at a Legislative Council panel meeting yesterday.

Detainees could raise concerns or objections on the new 'custody search form', which has been in use since the beginning of the year, before officers conduct the searches.

The introduction of the form was seen as fine-tuning a police guideline issued in July that regulated officers' handling of searches of detainees following criticism that the force was abusing its power by conducting unnecessary strip-searches.

Three parameters for the extent of a body search - from 'non-removal of clothing' to 'removal of underwear' - were introduced in the guidelines. Officers are required to record the reasons for the searches.

Police figures revealed that 12,043 detainees underwent body searches from July 1 to September 31 last year, and 1,674 were ordered to remove their underwear.

Among the main reasons for strip-searches, 34.2 per cent involved suspicion of drug possession, 15.7 per cent involved alleged illegal immigrants and people who overstayed visas, and 13.5 per cent involved theft suspects.

The principal assistant secretary for security, Apollonia Liu Lee Ho-kei, said the form, available in 11 languages, detailed the scope of strip-searches and clearly stated whether it involved 'looking into underwear', 'partial removal' or 'full removal'.

Officers were also required to feed the details, including the reasons for the scope of searches, into the force's communal information system, she said.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Austin Kerrigan admitted that an incident in October 2007, during which Wan Chai heritage activists were arrested and strip-searched, had been a catalyst for the introduction of the guidelines.

'We have been working on the concerns regarding under what circumstances strip-searches should be conducted and how the human rights, privacy and dignity of detainees can be protected,' he said.

Mr Kerrigan said police were conducting a trial using hand-held metal detectors, but he thought the device might not be able to replace human searches.

Lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing was concerned that officers still had too much discretion to decide whether or not to conduct a strip-search.

'We need to prevent police officers abusing their power with a strict and clear guideline,' she said.