Vulnerable inmates in Hong Kong care homes need much better protection

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2016, 12:17am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 October, 2016, 11:22pm

Shocking abuse cases in recent years have been found in more than one institution in Hong Kong.

Vulnerable persons, including children, those who are mentally incapacitated, and the elderly, have been physically and psychologically traumatised. There have been allegations of sexual abuse by the staff who are paid to attend to the inmates’ welfare.

It was reported that in one nursing home, at least five inmates died, including a suspected adolescent suicide (“At least five suspicious deaths at scandal-hit care home”, October 21).

There was also the allegation of sexual abuse of a mentally incapacitated inmate by one of the senior staff.

There must be a thorough investigation and careful monitoring to ensure that all institutions have sound standards and the inmates are safe.

Since 1995, special arrangements have been in place to facilitate the giving of evidence by mentally incapacitated persons (section 79C, Criminal Procedure Ordinance, Cap.221). A video recording of the primary evidence of the mentally challenged person may, with the leave of the court, be given in evidence.

However the court will not grant this if the victim is not available for cross-examination that can be conducted via a live television link from a room adjoining the court. This is why the Department of Justice, constrained by the current law, had to withdraw the recent case of the mentally incapacitated inmate, as the alleged victim could not testify for herself in court.

Disappointingly, Hong Kong, instead of moving forward, has at times regressed.

It was sadly revealed that the Department of Justice’s vulnerable witness team, established in the 1990s, providing dedicated services to tackle issues affecting vulnerable witnesses, has been disbanded with no explanation given.

Jurisdictions such as Britain and Australia are more progressive. A new development in Britain is expected to come into effect in 2017 enabling vulnerable witnesses to have not only their primary evidence video-recorded, but also their cross-examination, well in advance of a trial and while matters are still fresh in their minds.

The Department of Justice, following the latest incident, will launch a consultation on the admissibility of hearsay evidence in criminal courts via a live television link, based on a proposal by the Law Reform Commission in 2009. Hopefully this will lead to a breakthrough in the administration of justice.

Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, chairperson, Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights