The new head of the police watchdog has backed away from his predecessor's view that it should seek the power to start its own investigations.
Larry Kwok Lam-kwong said he believed it would be more appropriate for the government to "ponder" whether any broadening of powers for the Independent Police Complaints Council was needed.
"Personally, I think the IPCC should continue to focus on working within its current statutory powers," Kwok said. The IPCC's powers are limited to overseeing, monitoring and reviewing the investigation of public complaints by the force's in-house Complaints Against Police Office. Kwok's predecessor, senior counsel Jat Sew-tong, said last month that the statutory body should study whether it could operate like the Office of the Ombudsman, which can launch its own investigations.
Last month's appointment of Kwok, a corporate finance solicitor with mainland political connections, prompted concerns his background might compromise the IPCC's impartiality.
Yesterday, a leading human-rights activist said Kwok's stance gave the impression his mission was to "defang" the watchdog.
"The IPCC should not just wait for complaints to come in," said Icarus Wong Ho-yin, of the Civil Human Rights Front.
No meaningful monitoring of the 28,000-strong police force was possible, Wong said, if the police watchdog was not given power like that of the Audit Commission to launch its own investigations, at least into complaints of a more serious nature.
Wong, whose group organises the annual July 1 march, said he was "very disappointed" with Kwok's view. He said the front would seek a meeting with the new IPCC chief to express their views on what role the police watchdog should play.
Wong also said the police watchdog should regularly review the force's enforcement guidelines and procedures.
Asked whether his former role as a Guangxi delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference would harm the IPCC's perceived neutrality, Kwok said: "I do not have any political background."
Asked how he saw the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement or protests that might involve clashes with police, Kwok said the IPCC would be involved only when reportable complaints arose from such incidents.
He declined to comment further on the grounds that any remark he made might compromise the police watchdog's handling of any ensuing complaints.
He also said the IPCC would not send observers to events, such as protests at the Legislative Council against new-town plans, from which complaints against police were likely to arise.
But he said he and IPCC members would continue to act as observers at the July 1 march.