Former Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Leung Kwok-hung, better known as “Long Hair”, has won a lengthy legal battle against the Correctional Services Department, with the top court ruling that compulsory haircuts only for male prisoners amount to sexual discrimination.
The Court of Final Appeal’s three permanent judges unanimously decided on Friday to overturn a lower court’s decision in April 2018.
“The hairstyles for men and women in our society would be quite diverse,” read the judgement written by Court of Final Appeal Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma.
“[The prison standing order] had been subject to semi-annual reviews since its introduction (in the mid 1950s, we are told). If this were so, it seems somewhat unrealistic, if not bizarre, to suggest that [the haircut rule], if it was intended to reflect conventional standards in hair length in society, had not been amended in any way since that time.”
“I am of the view that less favourable treatment was given to the appellant compared with female prisoners,” Ma concluded. “There has been discrimination on the basis of sex.”
Leung’s trademark locks were shorn in 2014 while serving a jail sentence over a protest. In 2017, he won a judicial review against a rule requiring short hair for male prisoners but not for women.
“As I fought this case, I saw how the correctional department had treated male and female prisoners unfairly in their right to haircuts,” Leung told reporters as he stepped out of the courthouse on Friday, i-Cable news reported.
“But there are too many things that are unjust in Hong Kong,” he added. “Hongkongers are facing too much political injustice, and this could not be resolved in courts. I hope Hong Kong’s judicial system can do its best to maintain its fairness.”
The crux of the case rested on whether male prisoners were treated less favourably than female prisoners.
The judgement noted that the Commissioner of the Correctional Services Department had given inconsistent arguments and could not explain why the rule would not constitute less favourable treatment. The Commissioner had said the haircuts rule was to ensure “hygiene and cleanliness” of male prisoners, that security risks were higher for male prisoners than female as their long hair could be used to hide weapons, and that the rule was intended to maintain “custodian discipline” among prisoners.
The Commissioner was also unable to provide evidence that the conventional hairstyle for men in Hong Kong is short, while it could be either long or short for women, the judgement said.