Hong Kong legislator ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung triumphant in case of lost prison locks

Judge rules that decision to shear lawmaker of his signature hair during his brief incarceration in 2014 was unlawful

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 11:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 11:48pm

Men who end up behind bars may soon be able to keep their mane after a High Court judge found a decision to shear lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung’s signature locks during his brief incarceration in 2014 to be unlawful.

In a judgment handed down on Tuesday, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung ruled in favour of the radical legislator, who challenged the lawfulness of the decision and relevant orders requiring him and all male prisoners – but not female inmates – to have their hair cut while imprisoned.

“I hope I don’t have to have my hair cut when I go to jail next time,” Leung said after the ruling.

The judge said the orders made following his ruling would only take effect on June 1, allowing the correctional services sufficient time to consider whether the department should make any internal arrangements because of the latest judgment.

In reply to a Post inquiry, the department said it would revise its rules in compliance with the court decision and take into account various factors, including security and health.

In June 2014, Leung was held in the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre after his conviction on charges including criminal damage was upheld on appeal with a sentence of four weeks imprisonment.

The veteran activist sought a judicial review against the correctional services after he was required by a prison officer to have his hair cut.

All male prisoners are required to have their hair cut “sufficiently close for the purpose of health and cleanliness”, while female inmates can choose to keep their hair.

Leung launched the lawsuit on the grounds that the standing order constituted sexual discrimination prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance or Article 25 of the Basic Law.

He also argued the decision had violated his right to be treated with respect for dignity, which is protected by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.

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But the correctional services submitted that the standing order was supposed to achieve the objective to provide a “secure, safe, humane, decent and healthy environment for people in custody by maintaining prison security and custodial discipline”.

The authority said the standing order was a “preventive operational measure” that had the effect of reducing risks, including the vulnerability of prisoners with long hair in the case of an attack by another inmate.

But Au wrote in his judgment that it was a “clear case” that the differential treatment was based on gender.

The judge found the department’s reasons were all based on “stereotyped or generalised assumptions” referable to the risks associated with male prisoners as a gender as a whole.

“The hair cut requirement ... is a less favourable treatment ... and is made on the grounds of sex,” Au said.

The judge questioned why the rule could not be applied to female prisoners and therefore concluded it amounted to direct sexual discrimination and was unlawful.

He also found the decision had violated the Basic Law which guarantees equality.