Those fleeing abuses have right to reckoning by security chief Refugees who land in Hong Kong claiming they are fleeing torture in another country must have their claims individually assessed by the Secretary for Security, the Court of Final Appeal has ruled. The claims must be assessed through 'fair procedures' in line with the city's international obligations, the court also ruled. The judgment effectively means the government has a duty to investigate a claim and give reasons if it is rejected. The claimant then has the option of seeking a judicial review of the decision. Currently, the Director of Immigration has full discretion in the matter and refers such cases to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Hong Kong office. The office is not bound to explain refusals and its decisions are not subject to review by the courts. Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang made the ruling yesterday in dismissing an appeal by the Secretary for Security against a Court of Appeal decision quashing a deportation order made against a Sri Lankan refugee and torture victim. Mr Justice Li said the right not to be tortured was a 'fundamental human right'. He said the Hong Kong government - in line with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - had stated in a report to the UN committee on the issue that it had a policy of not deporting a person to a country where he or she may be tortured. 'The determination of the potential deportee's torture claim by the secretary ... is plainly one of momentous importance,' Mr Justice Li wrote in the judgment. 'To him, life and limb are in jeopardy ... the courts will, on judicial review, subject the secretary's determination to high rigorous examination and anxious scrutiny to ensure that the required high standards of fairness have been met.' Mr Justice Li said it was not acceptable for the secretary to merely follow the UNHCR's decision. The secretary must give 'every reasonable opportunity' to the claimant to establish his claim. The secretary must also assess the claim properly, giving reasons for refusal. In the case specified, Prabakar, whose full name cannot be revealed for his personal safety, was a Tamil fisherman who was stopped in Hong Kong in 1999 in transit to Canada. He was arrested for possessing a forged passport. He was charged and imprisoned and received notice he could be deported. He claimed, with the backing of evidence, that he had been tortured and faced further torture in Sri Lanka if he returned, but he failed to persuade the Director of Immigration. He then contacted the UNHCR directly, which initially rejected his claim but gave no reasons for the decision. The Secretary for Security made a deportation order against him without independently considering whether the torture claims were well founded. Eventually, with the help of lawyers, Prabakar was granted refugee status and resettled in Canada, but the Secretary for Security refused to rescind the deportation order. The Court of Appeal quashed the order and the government appealed to the Court of Final Appeal. Prabakar's lawyer, prominent human rights solicitor Mark Daly, welcomed the judgment but remarked it was just the 'tip of the iceberg' in remedying the situation faced by refugees and torture victims in Hong Kong.