Independent inquiry still an option for Carrie Lam

August 22, 2019 17:22
Independent Police Complaints Council chairman Anthony Neoh said if members of the public find the IPCC report insufficient, then the government should set up an independent commission of inquiry. Photo: HKEJ.

Anthony Francis Neoh, chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), said in a newspaper interview on Tuesday that he is not ruling out the establishment of a commission of inquiry, led by a judge, to look into the violent incidents related to the ongoing protests.

Neoh, who is also a senior counsel, made the remarks on the same day that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced that she has already asked the IPCC to carry out a "fact-finding study" into the public order incidents.

He said that if members of the public find the IPCC report, which will be submitted to the government, insufficient, then the government should set up an independent commission of inquiry.

However, Neoh believes that such an independent inquiry shouldn’t delve into the “culpability” of individual police officers and instead look for ways to "improve police operations” and address “social problems” faced by the young people who are spreadheading the protest movement. 

While Neoh’s view appears to deviate from the official line of the administration, some have suggested that, if seen from a different angle, he could actually be attempting to pave the way for the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry on the government’s behalf.

A major reason why mainstream public opinion has remained against the idea of relying on the IPCC to probe the alleged use of excessive force by the police against the protesters is that the council itself is made up mostly of either political allies of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying or pro-establishment figures.

From the public perspective, the pro-establishment composition of the IPCC has cast doubts on its ability to investigate the complaints against the police impartially.

It is understood that shortly after she assumed office as chief executive in 2017, Lam tried to “clean up the mess” left behind by the previous administration in the IPCC and enhance its credibility by appointing Neoh, a heavyweight in the legal sector, as its new chairman.

But as it turns out, depending on Neoh alone is not enough to reverse the currently negative public image of the council.

According to sources, Lam was apparently trying to lighten the workload of incumbent IPCC members by announcing on Tuesday that the number of members of the council will be increased.

Yet the truth is, the chief executive is actually planning to further “balance” or even “dilute” the die-hard pro-establishment voices within the IPCC so as to resuscitate its credibility.

As to the background of the proposed new members, a government figure has said that the administration is yet to come up with a list of candidates.

But judging from Lam’s tone during the media session on Tuesday, she is expected to appoint people who share a similar public image with Neoh to the council, so that she can at least avoid giving the impression that new IPCC members are leaning towards one side, the government figure said.

Nevertheless, the government figure conceded that it might not necessarily be easy to find prominent personages who are both trustworthy in the public eye and are willing to join the IPCC in these times of political turmoil.

Meanwhile, the independent commission of inquiry proposed by Neoh, which isn’t directed at the culpability of individual police offers and is based on the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel set up by the British government following the August 2011 riots, is also a direction that the government is currently contemplating, he added. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 21

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.