A Hong Kong man who escaped from court custody on Monday by allegedly exchanging identities with another defendant who was granted bail has been arrested.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building.
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The police announced late on Thursday that they had apprehended a 37-year-old man surnamed Chan in Yau Ma Tei earlier that night. The man was remanded for investigation on suspicion of “escaping from legal custody” and “misleading police officers.”

Chan – initially detained over drug trafficking – had escaped from the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Monday by allegedly swapping “identification documents” with a bailed 24-year-old defendant with the surname Lam in the court’s temporary holding cell, an earlier police statement read.

Local media cited sources saying that Chan had offered to pay Lam HK$20,000 in exchange for his wristband, the only means of identifying defendants awaiting custody in court as their other belongings, including HKID cards, are kept separately.

Lam was arrested on the day of Chan’s escape. He was charged with misleading police officers and denied bail when he appeared in court on Wednesday.

Police deployment outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on February 9, 2023.
Police outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Police also arrested Chan’s 31-year-old wife on Monday for allegedly assisting an offender – her husband – by giving him money after his escape. The wife was released on bail on Tuesday and will have to report to the police in mid-May.

Ming Pao reported on Wednesday that the police were set to launch an internal disciplinary review over the incident, but no officers had yet been removed from their posts.

Legislators’ reactions

Discussing the matter in a Tuesday meeting, multiple legislators urged for thorough investigation and improvements in the procedures for handling suspects at courts.

Lawmaker Eunice Yung said the incident exposed problems with custody procedures. “Maybe we should not place all fault on the police, the Immigration Department, or other law enforcement agencies,” she said, as the judiciary should “closely cooperate” with law enforcement.

eunice yung
Eunice Yung. File photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

In response, Judiciary Administrator Esther Leung said the judiciary was “willing to discuss and implement plausible measures” if security departments found improvements in court measures to be necessary.

Meanwhile, legislators Gary Chan and Bill Tang suggested stepping up identity verification procedures for defendants by using fingerprints, pupil recognition, or having two officers to double check their documents.

Another legislative councillor, Lai Tung-kwok, who acted as Hong Kong’s security chief before 2017, said it was the first time in his memory that a suspect had escaped custody by identity swapping.

“Releasing the wrong person was definitely a wrongdoing. Is it the fault of any person, or the system?” Lau asked, urging the police to get to the bottom of the matter.

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

contribute to hkfp methods
YouTube video

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit.

Success! You're on the list.

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.