Overseas experts jump ship from police panel

Top News | Cindy Wan 12 Dec 2019

Cindy Wan

Five overseas experts hired to advise a watchdog investigating police handling of the social unrest have jumped ship after criticizing the Independent Police Complaints Council for lacking an independent investigative capability.

The decision is an embarrassment to beleaguered Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has said the foreign experts would help compile a fair report for the IPCC. It is due to send an interim report to Lam this month.

The five said in a statement yesterday that talks with the IPCC last month had made no headway, so the International Experts Panel decided to "formally stand aside from its role."

The added: "We ultimately concluded that a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability of the IPCC."

The five said the complaints council does not have the necessary powers "to meet the standards citizens of Hong Kong would likely require of a police watchdog operating in a society that values freedoms and rights."

But the experts said they remain committed to engaging with the IPCC "if and when it develops the necessary capabilities and provides an interim report on the protests." Panel member Clifford Stott, a social psychology professor at Britain's Keele University researching public-order policing, said the IPCC needs to significantly improve its ability to identify and secure evidence from witnesses both inside and outside the police force.

A study must be credible to Hong Kong residents, he said, as it is unclear if the central or Hong Kong governments will support the setting up of a more powerful commission of inquiry.

He added: "An empowered IPCC could be the compromise required to take the situation forward."

The International Experts Panel was set up in September to advise on a thematic study about police practices arising from the protests that started in June.

It was led by British expert Denis O'Connor, who authored a report on police practices during the 2011 riots in eight UK cities, with members constituting current or former police watchdog chiefs from Canada, Australia and New Zealand plus British scholar Stott.

Their decision came after the panel released a statement last month questioning the ability of the IPCC, which had 29 members in September, to conduct independent investigations into policing practices given the scale of events in Hong Kong and the watchdog's restrictions on collecting and validating evidence.

Independent Police Complaints Council chairman Anthony Neoh, a barrister, sought to put a positive spin on the panel's decision, saying the five had not resigned but temporarily withdrawn from the current stage of work.

The interim report will cover mainly facts of the June 9, June 12 and July 1 protests without subjective comments, Neoh added, and the overseas experts thought the IPCC could first carry out the fact-finding on its own.

"I don't think the experts have quit," he said. "They told me they are interested in future tasks and we can talk it over after the first report."

And their "temporary withdrawal" would not affect progress of the report's drafting because the experts had already made suggestions.

"It's meaningless for them to stay here at this stage," Neoh went on. "Their functions haven't kicked in."

Neoh also said he agreed it is time to evaluate the IPCC's statutory powers, but the priority for now is to produce the interim report, which should be made public in late January.

Although the situation is not totally ideal, Neoh also said he does not feel the probe has been undermined by a lack of investigatory powers because the police have been cooperative.

It faced difficulties in obtaining information from the Hospital Authority due to privacy concerns, but Neoh believed an independent commission of inquiry would face the same problem.

The IPCC said in a statement it deeply appreciates the experts' contribution, adding that their advice will be considered thoroughly.

Future reports should cover the July 21 Yuen Long attack, police operations at the MTR Prince Edward station on August 31 and allegations surrounding Sun Uk Ling Holding Centre.

The administration has insisted that complaints should go through the IPCC.

Lam has rejected a call for an independent commission of inquiry and recently suggested an independent review committee instead.

cindymt.wan@singtaonewscorp.com

Official line given another push: Page 4

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