Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee has defended the conduct of the police force after a pro-democracy legislator asked whether the top official would apologise for officers who were criticised as “unreliable witnesses” in court.

The security chief spoke in the Legislative Council (LegCo) on Wednesday and answered questions raised by Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan. The democrat cited some recent verdicts of protest-related cases, in which the magistrates described police officers as not being honest and reliable witnesses. Wan also accused the force of making “indiscriminate arrests” and treating people at protest scenes with violence.

John Lee
John Lee. Photo: LegCo website screenshot.

In response, Lee disagreed with Wan’s police brutality accusations and said the comments made by the magistrates on police testimony were only applicable to that case. He said some judges had said officers were honest and reliable witnesses, while the court’s rejection of witness statements could be a result of other factors.

“For instance, the witness’s unclear memory… or the evidence given by the witness is more of a subjective impression than objective facts. Therefore one cannot arbitrarily conclude that there must be a breach of the law,” Lee said.

Last month, magistrate Stanley Ho acquitted Eastern District Councillor Jocelyn Chau and an assistant of assaulting police, saying the officers who testified were “unreliable witnesses” who “cover one lie with another lie.”

september 15 China extradition police protest causeway bay
Photo: Studio Incendo.

Some members of the public later complained to the judiciary against Ho’s ruling, but the Chief Magistrate Victor So dismissed the complaints and said the former Eastern Court magistrate had not said anything which suggested bias against police officers.

The head of the Security Bureau said on Wednesday that police would review the court’s remarks and decide whether any follow-up actions were needed. He revealed that police had taken disciplinary actions against two officers over the past five years in relation to credibility of evidence in court.

They issued a minor offence report to one person, while the other was reprimanded following disciplinary proceedings. No officers were prosecuted for perjury during the same period.

august 10 may james china extradition protest best of police arrest
Photo: May James/HKFP.

He added 28 officers had been recorded as committing disciplinary offences in 2019, which he said was a drop compared with 55 in 2018 and 43 in 2017. He said people should not write off the contribution and efforts of the overall police officers because of the “extremely small number of isolated cases” of misconduct.

“I don’t agree with the unreasonable allegation that there is a drop in the standard of police conduct. The police existing integrity management system is proactive and serious and will bring positive effects in promoting integrity culture,” Lee said.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.