IPCC expert panel might be gone, but its advice still holds true

December 13, 2019 13:21
Riot police arrive to clear a barricade set up by protesters along Nathan road on Dec.1. Foreign experts brought in to advise a police watchdog have quit, adding to doubts about the ability of force to carry out a proper review of recent events. Photo: AF

In a bid to boost the credibility of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), the police watchdog that is looking into some complaints on alleged misconduct of law enforcement personnel during the anti-government protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had in September invited five international experts to advise the watchdog and help scrutinize the work and procedures relating to police deployment. 

This week, all the members of the International Expert Panel (IEP) said that they were quitting.

The Wall Street Journal cited Clifford Stott, one of the panel members, as saying that that the IPCC can play a role in resolving the current situation only if it is given the powers outlined by the IEP as basic requirements, such as significantly improving its ability to identify and secure evidence from witnesses both inside and outside the police force.

In a statement on Wednesday, the five experts said talks with the IPCC in November failed to yield results and hence the IEP decided to "formally stand aside from its role".

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

In November, the panel had said in a statement that found that "structural limitations in the scope and powers of the IPCC Inquiry remain, inhibiting its ability to establish a coherent and representative body of evidence.”

The IPCC "needs to substantially enhance its capacity" so that will be in a position to "assemble a coherent account of the facts from police and other bodies; to access important documents and validate accounts supplied by police and others in a timely fashion; and to significantly improve its capability to identify and secure evidence from key witnesses outside policing,” the panel had said.

IPCC chairman Anthony Neoh on Wednesday dismissed suggestions that the overseas experts were “quitting”, arguing that they had already completed the initial phase of their work and were just leaving after this stage.

Authorities may be resorting to wordplay, but the foremost issue here is not whether the IEP members are quitting or leaving, but rather the panel's conclusion that it would be difficult for the IPCC to provide effective oversight of the police because of the watchdog's limited powers.

Neoh had also said he himself is aware of the view gaining ground in society that the IPCC is like a "toothless tiger”.

Despite mounting calls for the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to look into all the extradition bill-related events, all that Hong Kong's leader Lam has agreed to do is to set up an independent review committee (IRC), which doesn’t have the power to investigate or subpoena witnesses to testify before it.

If the government keeps digging its heels in and insists that this is the only option on the table, then, we agree with Henry Fan Hung-ling, the newly appointed chairman of the Hospital Authority, who has said that the IRC should at least be established under the existing Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance, so that the committee will be vested with statutory power to summon witnesses.

The five foreign experts might no longer offer assistance to the IPCC, but their opinions and conclusions in relation to the police complaints mechanism are still out there, a truth that the government must seriously reflect on.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 12

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal