The Hong Kong government will look into the scope of protection offered to public officers against insults, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said, as she was urged to ensure police officers have “enough dignity” to enforce the law.

The city’s leader was told on Thursday to give clear directions on whether the government will criminalise insults against public officers including police, when she attended a Q&A session in the Legislative Council (LegCo) about the last Policy Address of her term, delivered the day before.

Policy Address 2021 Elizabeth Quat
Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat (left) attends a Policy Address Q&A session at the Legislative Council on October 7, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Elizabeth Quat of the DAB party voiced support for the government’s plan to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law, as well as formulate laws to tackle “fake news” and cybercrime. But the legislator said Hong Kong needs a law against maligning police, whom she said were often insulted during work and faced abusive remarks online.

Quat cited “cold-blooded” insults to a marine policewoman who drowned in a clash with smugglers last month, where some netizens wrote a parody song to mock the incident.

“These comments hurt the dignity and authority of the police and increased difficulty for them to enforce the law,” the DAB lawmaker said, adding some police officers told her they did not feel “dignified enough” when there was no law against insulting them.

Chinese National Day October 1, 2021 Police Causeway Bay protective vest
Hong Kong police. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The government should make reference to similar legislation in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Macau, Quat said, to criminalise insults to other persons, with heavier sentences imposed on those directed to public officers.

The city’s leader agreed with Quat that her administration “should study this topic seriously.” The government was reviewing the scope of the potential law, Lam said, which was why she did not include it in her annual address, or the 40 legislative proposals for the next LegCo term.

“Should it be restricted to public officers? If so, the leading official should be the Secretary for Civil Service, because it does not only cover discipline units,” Lam said, pointing to some Food and Environmental Hygiene Department inspectors and Lands Department workers who have faced insults, or even physical altercations, at work.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam attending a Legislative Council Q&A session for the last policy address in her current term on October 7, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The chief executive pledged to speed up the preparatory work for the potential law, adding the government may report their progress to the upcoming legislative term.

“Ultimately, legislation is just a means. The most ideal situation in society is [for people] to be self-aware. To be self-aware in safeguarding national security, respecting the rule of law [in] society and respecting others,” she said.

Northern Metropolis

The city’s leader was repeatedly asked to give details on the execution of the grand development project “Northern Metropolis,” which Lam said on Tuesday has not yet been costed. While most lawmakers praised the plan as “visionary,” many urged the government to provide at least a phased timeline as previous infrastructure plans had suffered hiccups and delays.

Policy Address 2021 Northern Metropolis
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Edward Lau of the DAB party said he would “give 100 marks” to Lam for the direction of turning new towns and developing areas in the New Territories into a “metropolitan.” But the two decades required for the region to be fully developed may not be able to catch up with the development in China, he said, under the 14th Five-Year Plan and projects set for the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone.

In response, Lam said the government is seeking to simplify the procedures required for development in a bid to expedite the project. She said her administration had avoided amending relevant ordinances in the past, because the LegCo had “made no one dare to change these important laws.”

“In the process of land development, quite a number of ordinances are involved. The Town Planning Ordinance will be the first [to be amended],” Lam said.

Carrie Lam Policy Address 2021 Legco Q&A
Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a Policy Address Q&A session at the Legislative Council on October 7, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

She added the project implementation will also depend on “external” factors, saying the government would have no control over the potential pushback in society, such as possible judicial challenges against the proposal.

“How we can minimise this is by communication… to improve our ability to explain the project and through you all to explain why this plan is necessary,” she told lawmakers.

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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.