One test of a legal system is its ability to protect the poor, the weak and the vulnerable from abuses of power by the authorities. A victory for street sleepers in the Small Claims Tribunal has highlighted the importance of justice being available to all. Nine homeless people succeeded with their claim against the government for the loss of possessions during a clearance operation by the police and Leisure and Cultural Services Department in 2019. Their success might seem a pyrrhic victory. They were only awarded a token HK$100 (US$13) each because of an inability to prove the value of their lost property. But some of the claimants were quick to point out their court battle was not just about the money. One said: “It’s not a matter of how much I can claim. I’m fine as long as justice is served.” The treatment of the street sleepers is unacceptable. Their possessions, including mattresses, clothes, cash and travel documents were seized during an enforcement action at a park popular with the homeless in Sham Shui Po. They said they were only given three minutes to collect their property. Confiscated possessions, enough to fill 12 rubbish containers, were left at a refuse depot. Officials made no independent identification of the items and claimants were left to rummage through the containers in an attempt to find their property. There was a failure to exercise reasonable care, the tribunal found. Just because someone is homeless and sleeping in a park, it does not mean they can be treated as if their possessions are of no value. Hong Kong leader urges support for homeless amid public uproar The number of homeless people has been on the rise during the pandemic. They are deserving of understanding and compassion – or at least to be treated equally to those who are more fortunate. It is surprising the Department of Justice asked the street sleepers to pay HK$26,000 (US$3,300) in court expenses to cover costs incurred by the government. This claim was rightly rejected by the tribunal. The court victory for the homeless should prompt reflection on the part of the authorities. This is not the first time street sleepers have taken legal action over the loss of their belongings. Steps should be taken to ensure such ill-treatment does not occur in the future.