Force's legal naivety again exposed by road policy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am

The confusion over speed limits on 65 roads in Hong Kong has highlighted problems within the police force in the handling of legal issues.

The commissioner of police, Tang King-shing, is well known as an operations man who served in the elite special duties unit for many years. But he lacks detective experience.

Several complex legal issues have surfaced since Tang took office in January 2007, such as the case of the internet sex photos involving celebrities and the raid on the G.O.D. store for selling 'triad' T-shirts.

Among the disciplined services, Tang is perceived to be weak on legal issues, highlighted by comments he made last year about the Edison Chen Koon-hei sex-photo scandal.

During a radio interview, Tang said that 'even possessing the [nude] pictures might be illegal, but of course, we will look at the number'.

He added: 'The amount might determine the intention. It is illegal to have many of these pictures, as they might be used for publishing or selling.'

Lawmakers and legal academics later said Tang's words would create confusion.

The force was also accused of arresting a man just to try to stop further circulation of the pictures. Democrat Sin Chung-kai urged Tang to make a public apology over the handling of the case.

Earlier this month it was revealed that police were taking no action against speeding motorists on 65 roads because of confusion over the law. The transport commissioner has the power to vary speed limits by publishing them in the Government Gazette.

Last week, Tang said police would enforce speed limits according to signs on the road, but he did not explain the legal grounds.

Tang said many factors had to be considered before prosecuting speeding motorists, including road conditions and whether there were any bends in the road.

A veteran police officer said that in recent years high-fliers in the force, such as Tang, had spent too much time on management issues and not enough on police work, in which they would develop their legal and investigative knowledge.

He said they regularly changed posts to gain administrative experience.

In the case of the speed-limit dispute, responsibility should be shared equally between the force, the Transport Department and the Department of Justice, the officer added.

Another officer said that speeding tickets amounting to billions of dollars had been issued on the roads in question since 1984.

'This is a problem which has been ongoing for years. It was challenged by a driver and it seems we had some pretty strong legal advice saying this had the potential to open up a can of worms if we allowed him to challenge it in court.

'Since then, we've been quietly dropping fines and not taking points off drivers' licences. What do we do now? Charge them again? What happens when the next driver challenges their speeding fine in court?'

A government official said the decision to halt enforcement action last year arose when a motorist challenged a fine collected for exceeding 50km/h on Bride's Pool Road in the New Territories. The road is popular with driving enthusiasts, car clubs and motorcyclists because it twists through scenic countryside. It is one of 65 sections of road listed under a notice called Cap 374M.

In December 2007, lifestyle store G.O.D. in Causeway Bay was raided for selling T-shirts and postcards printed with the Chinese characters for '14K' - a triad society.

Nine men and nine women, including owner Douglas Young, were arrested on suspicion of violating the Societies Ordinance. Cultural commentators ridiculed the action as an infringement of human rights and creative freedom.