Guideline on charging issued to police in wake of Bokhary case
The Department of Justice has told police they should seek legal advice before charging a person with assaulting an officer under legislation that carries tougher penalties.
The new guideline has been issued amid public concern over the inconsistency of penalties for the same offence under two separate ordinances after a magistrate put the niece of a top judge on probation for her third offence of assaulting an officer.
The Police Ordinance, under which Amina Mariam Bokhary was charged, provides a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a fine of HK$5,000.
The Offence Against the Person Ordinance - which rights groups complain is frequently used to charge protesters - has a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
Frontline police officers received a memo on Thursday saying they should seek advice from the department before charging a defendant under the latter ordinance.
'The force has received legal advice on appropriate charges in case of assaults on police, and have notified frontline officers on this aspect,' a spokeswoman for the police said yesterday.
In the wake of the Bokhary case, police unions, law professors and legislators have been urging the government to consider reviewing the laws, and placing the offence of assaulting police officers under one law to avoid inconsistency and confusion in sentencing.
The chairman of the Hong Kong Inspectors Association, Tony Liu Kit-ming, welcomed the new guideline, saying it could help officers to decide which law to use on the charge of assaulting an officer.
'If the case of assaulting officers is a serious one, police will seek legal advice from the Department of Justice on whether to use the ordinance with stiffer penalties,' Liu said.
Bokhary, niece of Court of Final Appeal judge Kemal Bokhary, was put on probation for a year by magistrate Anthony Yuen Wai-ming, who later rejected an application from prosecutors for the sentence to be reviewed. The case will now go to the Court of Appeal.