The government's refusal to immediately release an internal report into the Marine Department's failings over the Lamma ferry tragedy would make it difficult for the victims' families to seek damages, a lawmaker said.
James To Kun-sun made the comments after transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung insisted that the report would not stay under wraps forever, despite claims by the families that they had been told it would stay secret.
The Marine Department was slammed by a commission of inquiry into the ferry tragedy on October 1 last year.
Cheung said yesterday that the government would release the "outcome of the investigation" - including details such as the number of civil servants found to be at fault and what those failings were.
But the full report would not be released immediately "to respect the procedural requirement of civil service disciplinary proceedings".
To, who is working with the families, said disciplinary hearings could take years. By the time the proceedings were over, the two-year window to bring civil proceedings would be long gone.
"The investigation team has all the original documents necessary for civil proceedings. They could release the report [and] we could then at least quote the report and be confident that the claims would be supported by documents," To, a solicitor, said.
To hoped the government would admit liability for the tragedy if the investigation found fault with marine officers. An inquest into the 39 deaths, would also allow the families access to documents, To said.
Cheung said that if the six-strong investigation team found any evidence of a crime, they would pass details to the police.
But To said Cheung's deputy told relatives that even if the case was referred to police, the families would not be told.
"The investigation is very secretive. I don't think I've seen anything so secretive," To said.
The investigators are expected to report early next year.