Complaint system revised

Catherine Ng

INVESTIGATIONS of complaints against police will come under closer scrutiny from June.

The Police Complaints Committee (PCC), which monitors the conduct of investigations, will start meeting witnesses to clarify queries.

The measure aims to reduce doubts about the credibility of the investigations, which have been carried out since 1974 by the police-run Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO).

Critici be able to interview witnesses, defendants, victims and experts when it disagrees with CAPO's findings.

Two or more committee members will attend the interviews together with the unit's legal adviser.

PCC member Justein Wong Chun said the measure would be reviewed after six months to see whether additional staff were required.

The move was proposed a year ago, but the PCC had first sought legal advice on whether its terms of reference allow it to conduct interviews.

The advice was positive.

At present when the PCC disagrees with the CAPO, it has to clarify queries indirectly.

It asks the CAPO to conduct further interviews or visits or to seek further medical or legal advice.

In 1992, of 3,250 complaint reports, the PCC disagreed with the CAPO on 231 and raised more than 300 queries. The PCC intervention altered or reversed the classification of 31 complaints.

Mr Wong admitted the measure would increase an already heavy workload.

''It is better to have a channel for us to clarify queries directly even though it means more work for us.

''We can have a first-hand feel and information about the cases.'' Mr Wong said the change would improve the public's attitude towards the CAPO and the PCC.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Benny Ng Ching-kwok welcomed the change, saying it would improve the system of handling complaints. Mr Ng is the director of the Services Quality Wing overseeing the CAPO.

''If the witnesses tell the truth to us and the PCC, it will be good for us as it will increase our credibility,'' Mr Ng said.

Mr Ng said it would be acceptable if witnesses only wanted to talk to the PCC because both bodies were parts of the same system.

Deputy convener of the Legislative Council's Security Panel, James To Kun-sun, said: ''The change is good but not enough.

''If the PCC wants to make it fair by listening directly to the witnesses, then why not handle the whole investigation itself? ''I think the only way to achieve fairness is to have an independent CAPO.''