Nine homeless people suing the government were urged to seek an out-of-court settlement yesterday at a preliminary hearing into the case.
Adjudicator Brian Mak urged the claimants and the Secretary for Justice to try to negotiate a settlement before the court hearing resumes on June 21.
The street sleepers' suit, in the Small Claims Tribunal, claims government workers threw away their belongings - including identity cards, phones and bank books - with no warning during a street clean-up operation.
The clean-up by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and police, under the waste disposal ordinance, confiscated half a tonne of 'rubbish' on February 15 from under a flyover in Sham Shui Po.
Also confiscated were clothes, blankets and electronic appliances. One person claimed to have lost a gold watch and necklace worth more than HK$10,000 in total.
Ng Wai-tung, a committee organiser with the Society for Community Organisation, said it was unacceptable for the department to use the waste disposal ordinance to take away street sleepers' property. The group helped the homeless people file their claims. 'Everyone should be treated equally,' said Ng.
'Sleeping on the streets does not mean that their property is not protected.'
No prior notification was given to the street sleepers to pick up their things, he noted.
Street sleepers were not allowed to take back their belongings, even though they were standing nearby.
Ng is afraid that the department's use of the waste disposal ordinance to remove the personal belongings may set a bad precedent for future clearance actions.
Cheung Muk-luen, 56, one of the nine street sleepers present in court yesterday, said: 'I was awakened by a kick and told to leave when they [the cleaners and police officers] came.
'I was barefoot and was not allowed to take back anything when they took my belongings onto the truck.'
The adjudicator questioned the department's definition of 'waste', given the valuable nature of some of the lost property.
A representative of the secretary for justice said the cleaners saw no such items during the clean-up.
The street sleepers are asking for compensation of HK$3,000 each for the lost property and an apology from the government.
They have lowered their compensation claim in the interest of reaching an out-of-court settlement.