Tighten supervision of those who care for the mentally ill

The case of a nursing home worker who escaped charges of sexually abusing a woman in his care has understandably caused public outrage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 1:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 2:25am

The public is understandably outraged after a man accused of sexually molesting mentally ill patients under his care repeatedly walked free from court. Adding to the dismay is that neither his social worker qualification nor the license of the nursing home where he previously worked as a supervisor was struck off the government registers. Only yesterday did the government take action to shut down the nursing home.

Cheung Kin-wah largely escaped public attention when, as the then superintendent of a Kwai Chung nursing home, he had his charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a mentally ill person dropped early this year. This came after the victim, a 21-year-old woman with a mental age of eight, was deemed unfit to testify as she was mentally incapable and had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. The case only came into the spotlight when a High Court judge rejected Cheung’s claim for legal costs last Friday.

The Department of Justice must have carefully weighed all factors before deciding not to press ahead with a charge of such gravity. Legally, Cheung remains innocent. That, however, does not stop people from making their own judgment. The details of the alleged abuse are disturbing. If an online petition arising from this case is any guide, the public does not seem to be on his side. But Cheung maintains his innocence.

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Rejecting his claim for legal costs, the judge said Cheung was fortunate that the charge was dropped, but that it was also the misfortune of the victim and society as a whole. Indeed, the 54-year-old had already been accused of molesting people under his care twice over the past decade. It has to be wondered whether the system – be it the administration of justice or the supervision of social welfare workers and agencies – is partly responsible for the outcome. Currently, mentally ill people are not expressly banned from testifying in court. Measures have also been put in place to protect their interests in legal proceedings. But if they are deemed unable to give evidence properly and that circumstantial evidence is not strong enough for conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused is given the benefit of the doubt.

That makes protection of the mentally ill all the more important. Abuses by those in positions of care and authority are not just a breach of trust but also serious crimes. The public outcry underlines the need for the government to tighten supervision of those entrusted with the responsibility to take care of the disadvantaged and vulnerable in society.