'I was wrongly sectioned - twice'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 December, 2011, 12:00am


An umbrella seller wrongly sent to a mental hospital for two weeks by a magistrate has claimed he was mistakenly put in an isolated psychiatric ward once before.

Chan Shu-hung, 59, said his first experience of solitary confinement came 12 years ago, when police sent him to Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre after he reported that a locksmith taught him how to make a bomb during a visit by a high-profile political figure from the mainland.

'It was dreadful. I would say it was a near-death experience,' said Chan, whom the High Court last week ruled was mistakenly locked up in May by Magistrate Abu Bakar bin Wahab when defending himself against a charge of criminal damage.

'I was just trying to distance myself from the locksmith. I just didn't want to get involved in his crime. But the police arrested me and sent me to a mental hospital,' Chan said. 'It was a wrong decision. I was mistakenly asked to take psychiatric medicine.'

He maintained doctors erred in their judgment that he suffered from a mental disorder. The story of his original wrongful detention was not heard by the Court of First Instance when he won his appeal against his conviction for criminal damage and wrongful detention by Wahab.

Meanwhile Chan is asking the Department of Justice to grant him compensation over what he called 'serious default' in the later case. .

In a judgment handed down this week, Mrs Justice Judianna Barnes Wai-ling wrote that the reason the magistrate had ruled on Chan's mental health stemmed from a failure to understand his case. Wahab, she said, had refused to accept his written submission and denied him the chance to explain himself.

Chan was accused in May of damaging a fence at a Kwun Tung building but chose not to be defended by a lawyer. He was locked up at Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre for two weeks during the trial as Wahab suspected he might be suffering from mental problems, saying he spoke in a confused and illogical manner. Reports later concluded Chan was mentally fit.

When the trial resumed, he gave up his right to defend himself and asked the magistrate to pass a verdict. He was convicted, fined HK$1,500 and ordered to pay HK$450.

'Apart from the magistrate's subjective belief ... no evidence showed that [Chan] would be a danger to himself or to others. It is regretful that the magistrate had not consider the option that [Chan] could receive observation while he was released on bail,' the judge wrote.

'One must appreciate that a magistrate has great power. When dealing with an unrepresented defendant, a magistrate should be especially careful in exercising his power to deprive the defendant's freedom.'

Barnes noted that she did not find that the magistrate had acted maliciously.

Chan has applied to the Department of Justice seeking an ex-gratia payment for the mistake. If he is granted it, it will be the government's first discretionary payout for a mistake made solely by a judicial officer.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it would consider the application carefully in accordance with normal procedures.