Hong Kong Correctional Services has told the appeal court that men are statistically more violent and male prisoners could hide weapons if allowed to keep their hair long. The government is hoping to retain rules governing haircuts for male inmates.

The requirement was ruled discriminatory and a violation of the Basic Law following a successful judicial review by ex-lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung last year.

Leung was sentenced to jail in September 2014 over 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.

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“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung. Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

Leung later filed a legal challenge saying that the rule infringes human rights and constitutes sex discrimination. He won at the Court of First Instance. However, the Correctional Services Department then filed an appeal.

On Wednesday, the government, represented by Senior Counsel Stewart Wong, said it did not dispute there was differential treatment based on sex, but said such treatment was not unfavourable and not discriminatory, Apple Daily reported.

The government argued that it was not prejudicial to say that men were more violent, and male prisoners with long hair posed a higher security risk. Therefore, the requirement was a matter of hygiene and safety, they claimed.

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File photo: In-Media.

Court of Appeal Vice President Johnson Lam asked whether it was prejudicial to suggest that men were more violent. The government argued that the claim was based on statistics and the experience of frontline staff over the years.

However, Senior Counsel Hectar Pun, who acts for Leung, said that if the government is suggesting that male prisoners are more likely to be unhygienic or more violent, such an assumption based on characteristics of a group is already in violation of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance.

Pun said the government could amend the laws or create new laws if it wished to require male prisoners to cut their hair. But the judge questioned whether this solution was too convoluted, RTHK reported.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.