The Correctional Services Department is considering whether to appeal against a court decision declaring unconstitutional the rule that male inmates are required to have their hair cut short, the department head Yau Chi-chiu said on Wednesday.

“We are studying the judgment and seeking legal advice on the viability of an appeal. We are also reviewing our haircut arrangement,” Yau said at a media session.

File Photo: GovHK.

‘Sexual discrimination’

Last month, the High Court held that the haircut rule, which does not apply to female prisoners, amounted to sexual discrimination and violated the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

But the ruling will not take effect until June 1, as the court believed that the ruling had far-reaching impact and the authorities should be given time to consider remedial measures.

The judicial review challenge was filed by lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, widely known as “Long Hair” based on his iconic lengthy locks.

Leung was sentenced to jail in September 2014 for participating in a protest in 2011. Despite objection from Leung, his hair was cut short while in jail. The authorities said that the rule was in place for hygienic reasons.

Leung Kwok-hung. /HKFP.

The ruling has sparked public debate over hair requirements in other institutions such as schools.

A social media post about a student complaint provoked a heated discussion last month. The anonymous commenter said: “A male student whose hair was too long was given a demerit, but he cited the judicial review case of ‘Long Hair’ and accused the school of sexual discrimination. What should we do?”

Local media also cited sources as saying that the Correctional Services Department is considering having the hair of female inmates cut short, rather than letting male inmates keep long hair, but the feedback from woman prisoners was not positive. No concrete proposals have been drawn up, according to the sources.

On Wednesday, Yau said he was aware of public concerns about the impact the ruling may have on society and “especially schools.” He stressed that the department would notify inmates and other stakeholders before implementing revised haircut arrangements.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan and Democratic Party lawmaker James To previously suggested banning female and male prisoners from keeping long hair. To said that allowing male prisoners to keep long hair would “cause management issues.”

Meanwhile, lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung said the authorities could consider limiting the length of hair for male inmates as a solution.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.