Bar Association voices fears on school drug tests

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 August, 2009, 12:00am

The Bar Association is the latest professional group to raise concerns about the trial of a voluntary drug-testing scheme in Tai Po schools.

In a written comment issued yesterday, it said the scheme, scheduled to begin in December, might undermine the privacy and the human rights of the participants.

It urged the government to make clarifications, even to change laws, to address the potential legal issues. 'It is the association's firm position that considerations of expediency must give way to higher issues of fundamental principle,' the paper said.

The association's comments came after the Law Society and former welfare chief Stephen Fisher expressed reservations about the involvement of police in the scheme.

Privacy Commissioner Roderick Woo Bun also told the government that students' parents had no authority to consent to testing on behalf of a minor - and that the issue might only be resolved by a change of law.

The Catholic Church has warned that the scheme risks stigmatising teenagers chosen for testing, and the Professional Teachers' Union has said schools should have more flexibility on when and how to conduct the drug-testing programme.

The Bar Association said students may be participating voluntarily, but the scheme may be coercive in effect because of pressure from the schools and parents.

There had to be some assurance that students who refused to participate would not be identified, otherwise they could suffer adverse consequences, the association said.

The government also had yet to formulate a policy on how to handle the data collected under the scheme, the association said, calling on it to come up with one soon.

Even with such a policy, the association was concerned that former students could face a dilemma when asked in job interviews or when filling out insurance forms whether they had ever tested positive for drugs.

The association was also concerned that the scheme would infringe the participants' privilege against self-incrimination - in case they tested positive for drugs or confessed to possessing or trafficking of drugs during the tests.

Though the government had said the students would not be charged over a positive result, the students would not be immunised from prosecution, the association said. It was therefore concerned that drug test results or confessions could be introduced as evidence in the courts against the students.

A government spokesman said last night it welcomed the association's views and would continue to listen to the public and refine the details of the scheme.