【明報專訊】During last year's anti-amendment storm, riot police provoked controversy by not displaying their ID badges when they were on duty. Yesterday (November 19) the High Court ruled that such a practice was in violation of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. The court argues that, when policemen fail to display unique identification, they are hindering the operations of the mechanism for handling complaints. The High Court is of the view that even the presence of an emergency does not mean that the Bill of Rights can be overridden.
The focus of the High Court's ruling is on the protection of the right to lodge complaints against policemen. In his judgement, the judge mentions that when policemen cover their faces when on duty, it is necessary for them to display what can show their identities. Without such unique identification, it will be difficult to handle complaints against policemen. The judge believes that police officers might be "doxed" maliciously if their identities are made public. However, keeping the mechanism for handling complaints effective is more important than addressing the worry that policemen might be "doxed". In his judgement, he says that by allowing policemen not to display their ID numbers publicly, the Hong Kong Police have made the mechanism for handling complaints incomplete. As for the complaint mechanism made up of the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) and the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), the judge believes that the mechanism is unable to fulfil the requirements of the Bill of Rights, as the former is not an independent body while the latter lacks investigative and other powers.
Over the past year, many court cases involving the anti-amendment movement have seen the original rulings being overridden. For example, the government invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to promulgate the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation. Pro-democracy lawmakers filed for judicial review, and the High Court ruled that the government's action was in violation of the Basic Law and the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal, however, overruled the decision of the Court of First Instance, ruling that the government's action and parts of the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation were indeed constitutional. The final decision is to be made by the Court of Final Appeal, which will determine how the case will go. It remains to be seen whether the police and Justice Department will appeal the ruling on the judicial review case about police not displaying their IDs when they were on duty and how the case will develop later.
When it comes to on-duty police's identities, the greater the transparency the better. It is believed that most people will agree with this in normal social circumstances. The High Court's ruling is made mostly from the perspective of the protection of human rights, as the court argues that protecting the right to lodge complaints against police should be given priority. It is imaginable that some people will ask why the judge does not give more consideration to the danger faced by police and their families if their identities are exposed when police are facing such hostile law-enforcement environments. Arguments about legal points of view should be handled by the judiciary. The public can discuss the ruling rationally. But they should not overstep the boundaries and launch vituperative attacks on the judge.
The chairman of the IPCC has said that the parts of the High Court's judgement concerning the authority of the IPCC are not accurate. That said, the IPCC's lack of power and independence was much discussed even before the anti-amendment storm. The authorities must pay proper regard to the problem, evaluate the existing mechanism for handling complaints against the police, and seek improvement.
override : to be more important than sth
overstep : to go beyond what is normal or allowed
vituperative : full of angry and cruel criticism