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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Senior judge Michael Lunn to head safety inquiry after deadly Hong Kong bus crash

Independent panel, to start work this month, expected to hand in report on bus safety and management issues within nine months in light of accident that killed 19

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 10:52pm

A High Court judge in Hong Kong who previously led an inquiry into the Lamma ferry disaster of 2012 will lead an independent review of bus safety and management issues in the wake of the city’s deadliest bus crash in more than a decade.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Tuesday the appointment of Mr Justice Michael Lunn, vice-president of the Court of Appeal, along with two others to an independent review committee which will start work later this month. The panel is expected to hand in a report within nine months.

Just days before the Lunar New Year in February, a KMB double-decker was travelling from Sha Tin racecourse towards Tai Po when it suddenly swerved out of control and flipped on its side, killing 19 people and injuring more than 67 others.

Eight of those injured were still in hospital on Tuesday, one in serious condition.

“The purpose and objective of this independent review committee is to ensure the safety and reliability of Hong Kong’s franchised bus services,” Lam said.

“The franchised bus service plays a very important role in Hong Kong’s public transport, and is responsible for 4 million passenger trips every day.”

The two other panel members were Lingnan University council chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology chair professor and head of civil and environmental engineering Lo Hong-kam. Lam said the two were experts in corporate management and transport planning.

Lam said the committee’s scope of work had three parts: to review the operation and management of franchised buses; to review the monitoring and supervision of franchised buses; and to make recommendations to her office to maintain the safety and reliability of the city’s franchised buses.

Investigations into the reasons for the fatal bus crash and legal responsibilities would be under the purview of the police, Lam said.

Bus driver Chan Ho-ming has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving and prosecutors have been given until April for further investigations to see whether he could face more serious charges.

Hong Kong has set up independent inquiries on a number of occasions, including the 2012 Lamma ferry disaster that killed 39 people and the 2015 scandal over lead in the tap water of the city’s public housing estates.

This current review committee does not have extensive powers given to the two previous inquiries, which were set up under Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance, according to a spokesman of the chief executive’s office. Under the ordinance, a commission has the power to summon any persons to give evidence, inspect any premises, issue warrants for the seizure of articles and documents and appoint someone to inspect all the books and documents related to a corporation.

Instead, according to its terms of reference, the committee is allowed to invite submissions from interested parties and the public on the areas under review.

In a brief statement, committee member Rex Auyeung said: “I will do my best to support the committee chairman and the working team to review the system and make appropriate recommendations in due course.”

Lunn was appointed to the Court of First Instance in September 2003 and to the Court of Appeal in 2011. He most recently handled the appeal of British banker Rurik Jutting, who brutally murdered two Indonesian women in 2014.

The review comes as bus companies face intense pressure to address the grievances of drivers, who feel overworked and underpaid.

Lam said it would be impossible to avoid matters such as working conditions in the review, as they were related to the operation and management of franchised services.

Hong Kong’s transport authority last month amended working guidelines for the city’s 13,000 public bus drivers, including reducing maximum daily duty hours and extending breaks.

KMB, the largest bus franchise, recently announced a pay restructure to improve drivers’ salaries. That led to an impromptu strike that exposed a long-standing feud between different driver unions. On Tuesday, KMB in a statement pledged to cooperate with the committee as it carried out its work.