Tai Po officer plans to challenge police ban on union membership

Legal aid application pending in attempt to seek judicial review of the police force ordinance

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 3:46am

A legal challenge is looming over a police ban on officers joining or organising trade unions, which one retired officer says may breach the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

An officer working in Tai Po is applying for legal aid to launch a judicial review of the Police Force Ordinance, said Tony Liu Kit-ming, former chairman of the Police Inspectors' Association, who has advised the officer.

The Tai Po officer declined to be named or interviewed.

The policeman had been facing a series of disciplinary hearings for undisclosed reasons in what the officer saw as an abuse of the system and wanted to form a union of active and retired officers to muster support.

But he was barred from doing so and is now seeking to challenge the regulation in court.

"No matter how the [police] management abuses the disciplinary hearing system, they do not need to face any penalty. It is most unfair," Liu said yesterday.

"So [the officer] is thinking of forming a trade union and taking the matter to the Legislative Council."

The ordinance says it is unlawful for an officer to be a member of any trade union, and those who violate the ban risk dismissal.

Freedom of association, however, is protected under section 8 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance, which states that everyone shall have the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests.

Liu said there was a realistic prospect of having a valid legal debate in court.

Police officers are permitted to join four groups: the Junior Police Officers' Association, Police Inspectors' Association, Overseas Inspectors' Association and Superintendents' Association. These groups are recognised by the police commissioner, and three of them have had commissioners as honorary presidents, according to Liu. He said that although the associations performed duties similar to trade unions, there were many restrictions. For example, membership is open only to active officers and they are not allowed to go on strike.

A trade union is seen as a legal entity and could represent members in a judicial review. But officers, who cannot join unions, can only represent themselves in any legal challenge.

The retired chief inspector said legal aid had been granted to a group of officers who wanted to challenge the regulation some years ago, but the matter did not reach the courts.

A police spokesman said the force would not comment on the potential judicial review but stressed that officers must remain politically neutral and fair.