LegCo Paper No.CB(2) 1193/95-96
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/BC/22/95

Minutes of the first meeting of the Bills Committee
to study the Coroners Bill

held on Wednesday, 17 April 1996 at 8:30 a.m.
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Dr Hon C H LEONG (Chairman)
    Hon James TO Kun-sun
    Hon Albert HO

Absent with apologies :

    Hon Ronald Arculli, OBE, JP #
    Hon Margaret NG #
    Hon Michael HO *

By invitation :

Mr Stephen Fisher
Assistant Director of Administration
Miss Sarah WU
Deputy Judiciary Administrator

Staff In attendance :

Mr LEE Yu-sung
Assistant Legal Adviser 1
Mrs Betty LEUNG
Clerk to the Bills Committee
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 3
Miss Flora TAI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 3


Declaration of interest

Dr LEONG Che-hung declared interest as the representative of the medical functional constituency of the Legislative Council.

Election of Chairman

2. Dr LEONG Che-hung was elected Chairman of the Bills Committee. Members agreed that a Deputy Chairman would be elected at the next meeting.

Written Submission

3. Members noted the written submission from the Hong Kong Medical Association (issued vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1041/95-96) which expressed strong reservation on the Bill. Members agreed that the Bills Committee should invite views from relevant organisations and meet with deputations on the Bill.


Meeting with Administration

4. The Chairman welcomed the representatives of the Administration to attend the meeting. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Stephen Fisher briefed Members on the background and salient features of the Bill which had been set out in the LegCo Brief (File Ref : CSO/ADM/TC/2/93 II) issued by the Chief Secretary‘s Office on 24 January 1996. Members raised a number of concerns on the Bill and the Administration responded accordingly. The gist of the ensuing deliberation was summarised in the following paragraphs.

Time gap for the introduction of the Bill

5. The Chairman queried why the Administration took nine years to introduce the Bill since the Law Reform Commission’s Report on Coroners published in 1987. Mr Fisher explained that the Bill was very complicated which needed longer time to be drafted. Extensive consultation with relevant departments and policy branches was also necessary during the preparation of the draft Bill. One other reason for the delay was that the Administration Wing of the Chief Secretary’s Office was not able to give top priority to the Bill until recently because of other more urgent commitments, in particular the Court of Final Appeal Bill.

High court’s power to order an inquest

6. Mr Albert HO asked and Mr Fisher explained the three conditions under which the High Court, upon application, could order an inquest or another inquest as set out in clause 19(1)(a), (b) & (c). Mr HO was of the view that findings of the inquest under subclauses (1)(a) & (1)(b) could be challenged via judicial review and queried the need to apply to High Court which would be very expensive in the light that proceedings related to inquest into the cause of a death would not be covered by legal aid.

7. Mr Fisher said that judicial review might be unable to cover the wide scope of subclauses (1)(a) & (1)(b). He undertook to seek legal advice to clarify whether subclauses 1(a) and 1(b) could be covered by judicial review and to explain the rationale behind clause 19. However, an application to the High Court would be cheaper than that of judicial review and thus would be beneficial to the interested parties. Members noted that coroner’s court at present could not hold another inquest on its own initiative even if new evidence was found. However, the Bill would enable the Attorney General or any properly interested person to apply for another inquest.


Reportable death

8. As regards Mr Albert HO’s question on the necessity for such a wide interpretation of reportable death, Mr Fisher explained that the Law Reform Commission regarded it was necessary to draw up a detailed list in order to make the proposed system of coroners to operate smoothly and to enable coroners to inquire into the causes and the circumstances connected with (a) death in suspicious circumstances; (b) sudden death; (c) violent death; & (d) accidental death.

9. The Chairman took the view that the medical practitioners would have knowledge of the cause of a death of their patients under most circumstances, and the Registrar of Births and Deaths could always refuse to issue certificate of death if there were suspicion. Medical practitioners would also alert the coroners if in doubt. The list of reportable death as it was drawn up failed to recognise the wide spectrum of medical conditions and would cause a lot of anxieties for the deceased’s family and unnecessary work for medical practitioners. The Chairman quoted no. 2(b) of the list of reportable death prescribed in Part I of Schedule 1 as example and remarked that it would have the effect that a medical practitioner might require a patient at a terminal stage of illness to visit him every 13 days, if he were to issue a certificate of death. Mr James TO also opined that the monitoring role of the Registrar of Births and Deaths in this regard would not be sufficient.

Reporting to the Commissioner of Police

10. The Chairman queried why reportable death should be reported to the Commissioner of Police as prescribed in Part 2 of Schedule 1. He took the view that it would affect adversely the trust between medical practitioner and the deceased’s family and would unduly interfere with the work of a surgeon. Mr Fisher clarifed that the Bill only imposed a duty to report a death specified in Part I of Schedule 1 "as soon as reasonably practicable after the death comes to his knowledge". Mr Fisher further explained that size of the staffing establishment of coroners was very small. Three police inspectors had therefore been seconded as coroner’s officers to assist in investigation work. These officers could act as contact point for each region. It would therefore be more convenient for the general public to contact the Police in view of the well-established communication structure in the Police Force. However, the Chairman pointed out that the decision of whether there needed a post-mortem still rested with the coroner.

11. Members expressed concern that since the the coroner officers were police officers, they might not be able to handle investigation cases related to death of a person under police’s custody in a fair manner which would be against public interest. Mr Fisher said that the coroner officers would not and could not handle such cases. In response to Mr Albert HO’s enquiry, Miss Sarah WU drew Members’ attention to the consequential amendment to the Police Force Ordinance in clause 74 of the Bill which imposed a legal obligation on the police to assist the coroners in their investigations. Such a secondment would not derogate the Commissioner of Police’s power of direction over the police force.

Burden on the deceased’s family

12. The Chairman expressed concern that once death was reported, post-mortem would be required which might not be the wish of the deceased’s family. Mr Fisher said that the duty of the coroners was to inquire the cause and circumstances of a death and to order post-mortem only under several circumstances. Autopsies would not normally be ordered for all reported deaths. He added that it was important to protect the rights of the deceased.

Investigation procedures of coroners

13. At the suggestion of Mr Albert HO, Members agreed that Members of the Bills Committee should meet with a coroner so as to facilitate their understanding of the working and the investigation procedure. Miss Sarah WU undertook to liaise with the coroner’s court. She further agreed to provide flow chart(s) setting out the present and the future work flow and procedures of coroners, starting from how inquest was triggered up to the end of the case and covering the various aspects including the pre-inquest review, the involvement of the police and the inquest procedure. In this regard, Mr Albert HO opined that rules of inquest should also be laid down.



Pre-inquest review

14. Mr Albert HO referred to clause 11 which empowered a coroner to first conduct a pre-inquest review before the actual inquest to determine how the inquest was to be conducted. He opined that a pre-inquest review should be allowed to interview relevant parties so as to determine whether an inquest was necessary in public interest.

Financial and staffing implications

15. The Chairman disagreed with the Administration’s view that the financial and staffing implications of the Bill would be minimal. Members also suggested that Administration to provide formal position statements or papers of the Hospital Authority, the Department of Health and the Forensic Pathology Service. In this regard, Mr Fisher said that public hospitals had already drawn up a set of medical and legal guidelines which followed largely the recommendations of the LRC’s Report, in particular, the list of reportable death. The provisions in the Bill in respect of reportable deaths were broadly similar to those adopted in the Hospital Authority guidelines. The major difference was that under the Bill, it would be a statutory duty to report a reportable death. Mr James TO asked and Mr Fisher agreed to provide the aforesaid guidelines and any relevant Code of Practice for medical practitioners for Members’ reference .



16. Members noted that the total number of reportable death was 7214 out of total of 30,894 deaths in 1995. The number of inquest held was 299. Miss Sarah WU would provide the statistics on deaths occurred, deaths reported and inquests held in 1995 in writing for Members’ information. The Chairman expressed that the number of reportable death might rise tremendously if the wide interpretation of the list of reportable death was allowed.


Powers of coroners

17. The Chairman recalled that the legal profession had expressed concern over the coroners’ power of seize and search. Members also agreed to invite views from the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong on the subject.


Date of next meeting

18. The next meeting would be held on Saturday, 4 May 1996 at 8:30 a.m. to meet the Administration and deputations.


19. The meeting ended at 10:25 a.m..

LegCo Secretariat
1 May 1996

* -- Other Commitments
# -- Out of Town

Last Updated on 10 December 1998