Asylum seekers who filed torture claims get damages for time in jail

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 March, 2009, 12:00am

Four asylum seekers who were locked up before claims that they might face torture if returned to their home countries had been decided were awarded a total of HK$510,000 in damages yesterday.

In a judgment in the Court of First Instance, Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said damages had been assessed and granted according to each of the claimants' personal circumstances and the length and the condition of their unlawful detention.

The damages were awarded after a landmark Court of Appeal ruling last summer that Hong Kong lacked a clear set of rules to explain why about 400 asylum seekers had been detained. It found the detention policy to be arbitrary and capricious, in contravention of the Basic Law and Hong Kong's Bill of Rights.

In the present case, the four asylum seekers - from West Africa, Algeria and Sri Lanka, aged 31 to 37 - had been detained for periods ranging from three months to 211/2 months after they filed their claims under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

They were detained while they were waiting for the Immigration Director's decision on their status.

They had intended to claim damages ranging from HK$280,000 to more than HK$1 million from the government. But Mr Justice Cheung yesterday granted them HK$80,000, HK$100,000, HK$150,000 and HK$180,000 respectively.

He noted he had taken into account the living conditions the claimants had enjoyed before and after their detention. But he stressed the assessment was fair by considering the subjective personal experience of the claimants.

'All this is not to say that there is one law for the rich and famous, and another for those who are without,' he said.

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly said more claims for damages from torture claimants could be expected. He said it would not be easy to estimate how many of claimants would be affected by the recent ruling.