COURTS

Judge Mak tells government to stop dragging its feet over compensation for street sleepers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 3:42am

Street sleepers who had their belongings thrown away without warning by the government are still waiting for compensation seven months on.

Small Claims Tribunal judge, Brian Mak, yesterday reprimanded the government for dragging its feet in the case of the 19 street sleepers, while it emerged that one of them, 51-year-old Leung Chi-ming, died last month.

An operation involving several government departments on February 15 cleared away the possessions of dozens of homeless people in Sham Shui Po, without warning and with no reason given.

Social workers brought together 13 people to make a legal claim, with six more joining their ranks later.

But two hearings have not resulted in any agreement on compensation, and the street sleepers say the government had "no sincerity and showed no true willingness to come to a settlement".

A representative of the Department of Justice said in court that the delay in settling the case was owing to the fact that six more cases were added after the previous meeting in June. But the argument was not accepted by the claimants nor the judge.

Ng Wai-tung, from the Society for Community Organisation, legislator Cheung Kwok-che and Pastor Lam Kwok-cheung represented some of the claimants.

Ng said since the last hearing on June 27, he had contacted the Department of Justice seven times but received no reply until September 11, when he received settlement terms and guidelines. Ng had proposed using a mediation centre, but the government only firmly agreed to the idea in court yesterday. The government was told by the court to agree on a mediator by October 5, and then set a date to discuss an out-of-court settlement. Claimants and the government must submit written reports on their progress by October 19.

Testimonies for the six new cases also have to be completed by mid-October. The next hearing will be on November 6.

"We feel like this is still dragging things out. We've waited through almost four months - many of [the street sleepers] are old and sick, we don't have much time," said Ng, who spoke for the group. "We are also very disappointed in the government. We feel like they have completely no intention of negotiating, there is completely no sincerity."