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Hong Kong fireman seeks judicial review over dismissal after suicide bid

Li Chi-sum was accused of misconduct, but he says Fire Services Department did not give him a proper assessment of his mental condition

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 8:50pm

A Hong Kong firefighter who threatened to kill himself after claiming to have been unfairly treated at work was dismissed without proper assessment of his mental condition, a court heard on Monday.

Fire Services Department staff Li Chi-sum was also stripped of his retirement benefits following his suicide attempt in 2011 when he sat precariously on top of a fire station for six hours, demanding to see the city’s fire chief, barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee told the High Court.

In a legal challenge launched by Li, the court heard that he faced a disciplinary hearing after the incident, which resulted in a total of 10 charges against him and a conviction in 2015.

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Ng said her client had been seeing a psychiatrist before the suicide attempt, and was diagnosed with adjustment disorder at the same time the disciplinary actions commenced.

He was accused of misconduct and substandard performance by the department.

According to civil service guidelines, the barrister said, those with a disability – in Li’s case, his mental condition – should be assessed by a medical board before any disciplinary hearing.

But the barrister said her client’s wishes for a medical assessment were not promptly granted, and he was dismissed in 2015 as a result of the disciplinary action after the hearing.

“The director has acted ultra vires,” Ng, citing a legal term meaning to act outside the law, said of the department’s head, who is the respondent in the current case.

Li, who attended court clad in a full suit on Monday, is seeking to quash his dismissal. In 2015, he lodged an application to the chief executive to review the director’s decision. The result of that case is still pending.

The court heard that Li was described by the department as a “reckless and wanton” person, and was accused of often challenging management without substantial grounds and being a nuisance to his superiors, as well as affecting operational efficiency.

But Ng said Li had sought psychiatric help as early as 2010 because of stress arising from unfair treatment and conflict with superiors at work. He was diagnosed with adjustment disorder and had been on leave since his suicide bid in August the following year.

The court heard that since the disciplinary action began, the department had offered to convene the medical board, on condition that Li was willing to sign a consent form.

According to Ng, Li had refused to sign it, thinking it was “prejudicial”.

The barrister said that while the board’s duty was only to assess Li’s condition in general, the consent form would require him to agree that the board could determine if he was still capable of serving his duty, essentially having the power to dismiss him from his job without a disciplinary hearing.

His repeated requests to change the content of the form were denied, Ng said, pressing him to eventually sign the form just before the disciplinary proceedings in March, 2015. But even so, the department did not halt the hearing at the time.

Ng further argued that even if the department had decided Li was no longer fit for duty, there was no need to strip him of his retirement benefits. She said her client lived in a subdivided flat and had been receiving only half of his salary because of the disciplinary action.

“There has to be a reason for this draconian treatment. Yet none has been given,” she said.

The case continues before Mr Justice Wilson Chan Ka-shun on Tuesday.