Lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung has won a judicial review challenging the rule that the hair of male prisoners must be cut short.

Leung was sentenced to jail in September 2014 for a protest in 2011. Despite opposition from Leung, his iconic lengthy locks were cut short by correctional officers when he was jailed, owing to a rule that only applies to male inmates. The law is in place for hygienic reasons.

Leung later filed a judicial review saying that the rule infringes human rights and constitutes sexual discrimination.

Leung Kwok-hung
Leung Kwok-hung in 2014.

High Court judge Thomas Au Hing-cheung ruled on Tuesday that the Correctional Services Department’s rule violates the Basic Law as it constitutes sexual discrimination and must be corrected.

Au stated that his ruling has far-reaching impact and therefore it will take effect on June 1 this year to allow time for the Department to consider remedial measures.

Leung was also given his legal costs.

Outside the court, Leung said many people thought he was making a fuss over a minor issue when he filed the challenge.

“The government has to ask itself deeply if we have a lot of outdated laws – because after the establishment of the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights, many colonial laws left behind violate the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights – it should amend those laws as soon as possible,” he said.

Leung Kwok-hung
Photo: Facebook/Leung Kwok-hung.

Leung said in his view, many current laws constitute discrimination, from laws regulating the number of toilet cubicles, maternity leave and termination of employment.

“We need to remember this lesson – allowing these laws to exist is unfair for both men and women, especially for women,” he said.

Leung also said he will consult his lawyers over whether to ask for compensation from the Department from the Small Claims Tribunal.

A spokesperson for the Correctional Services Department told local media that it is looking into the ruling and will consider appropriate follow-up arrangements.

Application to both genders

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan, who chairs the legislature’s Panel on Security, said Tuesday that it would be more appropriate for both female and male prisoners to have their hair cut short.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To, who is vice-chair of the panel, also agreed with this view. “From the perspective of management, it only takes slightly more resources to give female prisoners haircuts. It is doable. Meanwhile, allowing male prisoners to keep their hair long causes management issues,” he said.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.