Hong Kong courts

Politician ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung needed locks cut in jail for his own safety, Hong Kong court told

The former lawmaker would be more vulnerable to attack if other prisoners pulled his hair, argue lawyers for prison authorities

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 11:25pm

Forcing a veteran Hong Kong activist best known for his long hair to trim his locks while in prison was to protect his safety, lawyers for the prison authority told an appeal on Wednesday.

Barrister Stewart Wong Kai-ming SC said the lengthy locks could make Leung Kwok-hung – better known by his moniker “Long Hair” – more vulnerable to attacks if other prisoners pulled his hair.

If other male prisoners were allowed to keep their long hair, he added, they could use it to hide weapons and drugs, and even attack others. Some could commit suicide with it, he said.

“All of these are security issues,” the barrister told the Court of Appeal.

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The commissioner of the Correctional Services Department is appealing against a lower court judgment that ruled in favour of Leung in a judicial challenge a year ago.

Leung took the commissioner to court after he was forced to cut his hair when he was jailed in 2014, while female prisoners were not required to cut their locks. The activist argued that the treatment was discriminatory, violating the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, the city’s Bill of Rights and its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Ruling it as differential treatment based on sex, the High Court’s judgment earlier effectively meant the prison authority would have to review its hair restrictions for both men and women.

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The Post reported previously that this may result in the city’s 1,800 female inmates having to wear their hair short. But it drew a huge reaction among female prisoners.

The court order for a review had since been put on hold until March this year, pending this appeal being heard.

On Wednesday, Wong argued that the situation between male and female prisoners was not comparable, and that the appeal judges had to look at the background which necessitated the restriction imposed on men.

The senior counsel said the context was that at the time Leung was in prison, where “security, discipline, conformity and rehabilitation are all matters of concern”.

Statistically, he said, there were more fighting incidents in male prisons than in female ones. He also cited some US cases, which pointed to the security concerns that came with male prisoners wearing long hair.

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While Leung had a right to be protected, the barrister said, “he [also] had a corresponding obligation to be part of the security which benefited everyone.”

He dismissed the idea that the department’s view on male prisons was a stereotype. Rather, he argued, it was founded on facts. He said the treatment was designed by the commissioner and his predecessors through years of experience. So respect ought to be paid to their professionalism.

Countering, Hectar Pun SC, for Leung, said the department’s practice was that women were not required to cut their hair short without their consent even amid security concerns.

He took issue with the department’s assumption that male prisoners were more violent.

“This is exactly the general assumption, the stereotype, the law was enacted to outlaw,” he said.

Leung was jailed for four months in 2014 as a result of his failed appeal over criminal charges he was convicted of during a protest in 2011. He was protesting against the government’s proposal at the time to find a replacement for by-elections in cases when a seat in the legislature was vacated.

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Before he entered the court, the former lawmaker, who was disqualified over his oath last year, said the appeal showed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s “elitist mentality” – a reference to the criticism Lam deployed when she slammed the city’s lawyers over a controversial joint-checkpoint plan on Sunday.

Some lawyers said there was a lack of legal foundation over the government and Beijing’s plan to impose national law in part of the Hong Kong terminus of the speed rail linking mainland China, prompting Cheng to slam them for putting themselves higher than the legal system on the mainland.

Leung said the government was the one with an elitist mindset as it only accepted victory, but would appeal when it had lost.

The appeal, expected to last for two days, continues before High Court Chief Judge Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, vice-president Johnson Lam Man-hon and appeal judge Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor.