New police watchdog 'will be lacking clout'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2009, 12:00am

The statutory police complaints watchdog to be set up next month will lack clout and resources, pan-democrats say, although they concede the new body will be an improvement on the last such watchdog, which was not a statutory body.

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) will become a statutory body in June after decades of discussions about enhancing its power and credibility.

In a Legislative Council debate last night, Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, a vocal critic of the existing watchdog system, said the council would still be powerless despite its new status.

'It is shackled, with no power to investigate or to impose penalties,' he said. 'It must go independent in the future to carry out its function.'

Complaints against police are examined by the Complaints Against Police Office (Capo), a police unit. Critics say Capo decisions are mostly biased in favour of police, while the IPCC, which monitors the handling of complaints, has no power to order a new investigation if it disagrees with verdicts.

The new IPCC will have four teams, instead of three under existing legislation, to examine complaints.

It will be funded to the tune of HK$28.3 million next year.

Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit, who served on the watchdog for six years until 2007, said the IPCC's new incarnation was a step forward. 'The body is under heavy constraints,' he said.

'The system is not ideal, but it is better to monitor complaints, even twice a month, than not monitor at all.'

Lawmaker Abraham Razack, recently appointed vice-chairman of the IPCC, said the public should have more confidence in the new body. 'The first step is the most difficult one,' said Mr Razack, who also called on fellow legislators to become observers on the new statutory body. It will conduct spot checks on complaints about police, which are running at more than 2,000 a year.

In response to the criticism, Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong made a 'solemn promise' that the administration would help the watchdog run effectively.

'The statutory status will enhance the IPCC's credibility and transparency by codifying the existing police complaints system and putting in place clear provisions on the council's power,' he said.