Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)436
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref. : CB2/PL/SE/1

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Minutes of Meeting held on Thursday, 18 September 1997 at 2:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon CHENG Kai-nam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Allen LEE, JP
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Henry WU
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon KAN Fook-yee
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP ] other commitments
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP ] other commitments

Public Officers attending :

Item III

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 2

Mrs Sarah KWOK
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security B

Item IV

Mrs Sarah KWOK
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security B

Mr Kelvin PANG
Assistant Commissioner of Correctional Services

Item V

Mr Patrick CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security V

Mr Spencer FOO
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Operations)

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 5

I.Confirmation of minutes of meetings held on 25 July 1997 and 21 August 1997

(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 288 and CB(2) 308)
The minutes of the meetings were confirmed.

II.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

  1. Handling of traffic accidents involving police officers while on duty and where the police officer (driver) concerned was at fault;

  2. Measures to improve fire safety; and

  3. Extension of operation hours of the cross-border checkpoints.

(Post-meeting note : To avoid a clash with policy briefings, the next Panel meeting scheduled for 16 October 1997 at 2:30 pm will be postponed to commence at 3:45 pm on 16 October 1997, immediately after the policy briefing by Commissioner, Independent Commission Against Corruption).

2.Members also agreed that the following subjects should be discussed at future meetings of the Panel-

  1. Emergency ambulance services;

  2. Transfer of prisoners of foreign nationalities who were willing to serve their sentences in their countries of origin;

  3. Protection of safety of civil servants against violence in the course of duty; and

  4. Security arrangements for the Hong Kong new airport at Chek Lap Kok.

III.Proposed Panel visits

3.The Chairman informed members that tentative arrangements had been made with the Police for Panel members to visit the Police Headquarters at Wanchai in the morning of 18 November 1997. She called upon members to take part in the visit as far as possible.

IV.Overcrowdedness in penal institutions
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 300(02))

4.Deputy Secretary for Security 2 (DS/S(2)) briefed members on the content of the PLC Paper, which set out the latest position as at 5 September 1997 on overcrowding in penal institutions in the territory and the progress of the actions which were being undertaken to address the problem. He pointed out that whereas the overall rate of overcrowding was 13%, the occupancy rates of individual penal institutions varied, some being more serious than others. Steps had been taken in the past few years to increase the number of penal places through redevelopment of existing penal institutions, and a proposal to construct a new prison complex at Yam O with capacity for up to 1 200 inmates was being considered. Taken together, the projects were expected to provide over 2 600 new places in the years up to 2003.

5.As regards measures to increase penal capacity, some members made the following observations -

  1. whether efforts had been made to fully utilize the facilities of penal institutions by transferring inmates from the more overcrowded institutions to those institutions which had not yet been fully occupied;

  2. for the planned projects to provide additional penal places, whether the design allowed room for future expansion;

  3. whether existing and future provision of penal places took into consideration the question of adequate space per inmate for the conduct of daily activities inside the institutions.

6.The Administration made the following points in response to members' comments -

  1. Different penal institutions might have their own unique circumstances and purposes. For example, the Lai Sun Correctional Institution, which was only 79% occupied, was a minimum security prison accommodating young prisoners. As a matter of policy, prisoners in medium security prisons had to serve a certain period of their sentences before they could be considered for transfer to minimum security prisons. The Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre, whose occupancy rate was 89%, was an institution for detainees with psychiatric problems. The Lo Wu Correctional Institution, on the other hand, was a newly completed institution which was currently taking up inmates in phases. As for Tong Fuk Centre, the below capacity situation was only temporary, due to maintenance work which was being carried out to the building premises. Efforts were being made to improve institutions where the problem of overcrowding was particularly serious. For example, to alleviate the situation in Tai Lam Centre for Women, the former Chimawan (Lower) Detention Centre had been converted into a drug addition treatment centre for female inmates. Consideration was also being given to convert one of the existing male prisons into a female centre, when the other planned additional prison capacities were completed.

  2. The use of the land site allotted for the building of new penal facilities would be maximized. Nonetheless, there were certain restrictions. The proposed new prison complex at Yam O, for instance, was located in a slope which could not be extended all the way laterally. There were also limitations with regard to vertical expansion because of security considerations. The original design of the project was planned for accommodating 1 000 inmates and the number was later revised to 1 200. There were other practical considerations as regards the choice of sites, such as the need to keep penal institutions away from residential developments, etc. In the meantime, the Government was exploring other suitable locations for additional penal accommodation.

(c) There existed specific standards concerning space within a penal institution, such as bed-space for the inmates, workshop areas and areas for other activities. The standards were set in consultation with the Architectural Services Department (ASD), having regard to the appropriate number of inmates in a particular institution. The Administration undertook to provide more detailed information in this connection. Adm

7.Mr CHAN Choi-hi pointed out that illegal immigrants from the Mainland (MIIs) who were caught working in Hong Kong would have to serve an imprisonment sentence in Hong Kong before they were repatriated to the Mainland. He enquired if such imprisonment term could be shortened so as to relieve the pressure on penal places. Mrs Elise TU commented that imprisonment of MIIs was not an effective deterrent as they well understood that they could earn more in prison in Hong Kong than they could in the Mainland. DS/S(2) responded that existing policy was that MIIs when intercepted would be repatriated immediately, unless they were found working illegally in Hong Kong, and in such case the MIIs would be prosecuted for illegal remaining and sentenced to prison on conviction. The length of the imprisonment term was a matter for the court's decision. At present, MIIs made up about 5% of the total prison population. For the first half of 1997, the average length of imprisonment for such male illegal workers was 14.4 months. The corresponding figures for the first half of 1995 and 1996 were 14.4 months and 14.1 months respectively. The figure for the latter half of 1996 was 14.8 months. DS/S(2) added that the purpose of imprisonment was to send a clear message to MIIs that illegal employment carried serious consequences. The Administration was of the view that to abandon or relax on the existing policy would risk the chance of a large influx of MIIs.

8.Mrs Elsie TU expressed the view that it was necessary to introduce new measures, apart from increasing penal capacities, to reduce prison population, thereby reducing the demand for new prison facilities. She said that consideration should be given to returning foreign prisoners who wanted to go back to their countries of origin to serve their sentences. In addition, more prisoners who had been fully rehabilitated should be granted parole. DS/S(2) advised that before the handover of sovereignty, the Administration had concluded arrangements with some 24 countries as regards the transfer of sentenced persons. Negotiations with other key countries were underway with a view to reaching similar agreements. Yet, there were foreseeable restrictions of implementing the arrangements, such as it was necessary to have the sentenced person's consent before the person could be repatriated. In addition, as countries varied in their legal and judicial as well as prison systems, Hong Kong would have to be satisfied that the prisoners, after repatriation, would be dealt with fairly and subject to treatments which would not be worse than that in Hong Kong. DS/S(2) advised that the ideal position was that a formal agreement be in place, although it was not a necessary requirement for the repatriation of foreign prisoners. At present, there was no such formal agreement between Hong Kong and the Mainland in respect of repatriation of sentenced persons. Mrs TU said that if foreign prisoners had requested to return to their own countries to serve their sentences, there was no reason for Hong Kong to bar them from going.

9.As regards possible remission of sentences for certain prisoners, DS/S(2) informed members that the Long-Term Prison Sentences Review Ordinance had been passed by the former Legislative Council. The Ordinance turned the Board of Review, Long Term Prison Sentences into a statutory body and made provisions for measures and procedures for the remission of sentences of long-term prisoners under prescribed conditions. This would help reduce demand for penal capacities to a certain extent. Assistant Commissioner of Correctional Services (ACCS) added that other efforts had been made to reduce the number of inmates in penal institutions. In the case of juvenile offenders, for example, the expansion of the Police Superintendents Discretion Scheme and the placement of some young offenders in institutions managed by the Social Welfare Department had reduced the proportion of juvenile offenders kept in penal institutions. In response to members' suggestion to examine possibilities to break away from the traditional punitive prison system, DS/S(2) said that a right balance had to be struck between getting possible substitutes for penal institutions and the need to give effect to the public's expectation to treat prisoners under a safe and secure environment.

10.Members were concerned that excessive overcrowding in penal institutions would give rise to serious security problems. They doubted whether existing manpower of the Correctional Services Department (CSD) could cope with the situation. The Administration replied that staff establishment for penal institutions were determined on the basis of the certified accommodation of the institutions. To cater for short-term contingencies, additional manpower would be provided through internal redeployment of resources, or other temporary measures such as over-time work performed by penal staff. The Administration advised that while occasionally there had been short-term inadequacies in certain areas, the problems had been effectively dealt with by flexible use of existing resources and there had been no real threat to security. ACCS added that the pressure on CSD had in fact been reduced over the past few years, consequent to the easing of the number of Vietnamese migrants (VMs) and accordingly a considerable number of CSD staff having been redeployed from the VM detention centres to penal institutions. The Administration would constantly review the staffing position of penal institutions but ultimately increases in permanent staff establishments would have to await the completion of new prison facilities.

11.Members opined that it was only reasonable that staff establishments should be based on the actual penal population instead of the planned capacity. Members also pointed out that according to the information provided by the Administration, the planned increase in new prison facilities still showed a shortfall of penal places by the year 2000. They asked whether an earlier time-frame for the completion of the projects could be achieved. DS/S(2) replied that a lead time of several years was normally required for a new project to go through all the procedures before completion. The Administration considered that fundamental relief lied with the supply of additional prison facilities. The Administration would make every effort to speed up the planned projects and explore new possibilities. DS/S(2) said that the Administration would take on board members 'suggestions to address the problem.

11.Members opined that it was only reasonable that staff establishments should be based on the actual penal population instead of the planned capacity. Members also pointed out that according to the information provided by the Administration, the planned increase in new prison facilities still showed a shortfall of penal places by the year 2000. They asked whether an earlier time-frame for the completion of the projects could be achieved. DS/S(2) replied that a lead time of several years was normally required for a new project to go through all the procedures before completion. The Administration considered that fundamental relief lied with the supply of additional prison facilities. The Administration would make every effort to speed up the planned projects and explore new possibilities. DS/S(2) said that the Administration would take on board members 'suggestions to address the problem.

12.The Chairman said that it appeared that no end solution to the problem of overcrowdedness in penal institutions was in sight. She proposed that a Subcommittee of the Panel be set up to pursue the issue and with a view to recommending to the Administration long-term measures to tackle the matter. She requested the clerk to call for participation in the Subcommittee after the meeting. The Chairman added that members who wished to seek additional information from the Administration to facilitate deliberation by the Subcommittee could advise the clerk of their request.Clerk

13.In the meantime, Mr LAU Kong-wah requested the Administration to set out in writing all scenarios that had been considered by the Administration to resolve the problem of overcrowding in penal institutions in Hong Kong.Adm

V.Report on the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding a violent death of a prisoner in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre (LCKRC)
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 300(03))

14.ACCS briefed members on the background of the incident, which occurred on 28 April 1996 in LCKRC, and the outcome of CSD's inquiry after the death of the remand prisoner. He said that subsequent criminal prosecution had been taken against the parties involved. ACCS added that CSD had learned a lesson from the incident and undertaken a range of remedial measures to prevent a recurrence. These measures included staff training programmes to enhance awareness and assertiveness, stress management, management of problematic inmates and intelligence collection in relation to prisoners. CSD was also consulting ASD on the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) inside the dormitories to improve supervision and surveillance. ACCS said that the incident was an isolated case arising from personal disputes among some inmates over an inmate's cleaning work. CSD found that the existing practice of assigning inmates, by rotation, to undertake cleaning duties satisfactory. The inquiry, however, noted that overcrowding might have been a contributory factor for personal conflicts among inmates. Overcrowding also made it more difficult for LCKRC's staff to exercise close supervision and maintain order at the highest level. ACCS advised that investigation revealed that there was no evidence to suggest that staff of LCKRC had been negligent in their duties.

15.In response to members' questions, ACCS said that CCTV was available in workshops, day rooms and in public areas such as the passageways within the cell blocks. There was continuous surveillance by staff during daytime. In the evening, staff patrolled the dormitories once every 15 minutes. At the time of the incident, the duty office was carrying out normal patrol. It was said that the officer was attracted by some noise. The officer made a check on it but failed to find out anything unusual. He then proceeded with his duties.

16.The Chairman noted that there had been allegations that certain prisoners had special privileges to supervise and discipline other prisoners. She asked whether this was the case. ACCS replied that the so-called "B chai system", under which favoured prisoners were allowed to manage other prisoners, was strictly forbidden. He said that cleaning duties performed by prisoners were assigned and supervised by CSD staff in accordance with clearly set rules and instructions. While occasionally there might be prisoners volunteering themselves to help with the work, there was no question of special prisoners ordering and forcing other prisoners to do the work.

17.In reply to a question by Mr LAU Kong-wah, ACCS said that despite there were triad elements inside prisons, the CSD did not rely on the networks among the prisoners to regulate prison inmates. He said that the department had its own intelligence mechanism to facilitate the effective exercise of regulation and control.

18.Mr CHAN Choi-hi said that the cause for the incident as suggested by the Administration was not convincing and the remedial measures were inadequate. He opined that there were inherent problems with the supervision system itself which called for an independent comprehensive review. At the Chairman's request, the Administration undertook to revert to the Panel with more detailed information on what specific steps had been taken to prevent recurrence of similar incidents.Adm

19.In response to a further question by Mr CHAN Choi-hi, ACCS said that there had been no other violent deaths of prisoners in the past three years. ACCS agreed to provide figures on assault cases after the meeting.Adm

20.Mrs Elsie TU enquired of how the corpse of a prisoner who died a violent death of this kind was to be treated. ACCS advised that if the person died in hospital the body would be examined by the attending hospital doctor. In case there were grounds for suspicion as to the cause of death, a death inquest would be conducted by the Coroner's court in conjunction with Police investigation.

21.Referring to Mrs Elsie TU's enquiry relating to another prisoner in LCKRC who died in hospital two months ago, ACCS said that the findings of the death inquest were yet to be released. The Chairman opined that Mrs TU might follow-up on that particular case with the Administration after the meeting.

VI.Follow-up on issues of Vietnamese migrants and Vietnamese illegal immigrants
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 300(04))

22.Principal Assistant Secretary for Security V (PAS/S(V)) took members through the PLC Paper, which presented an update on the present position regarding measures to deal with Vietnamese refugees (VRs) / Vietnamese migrants (VMs) / Vietnamese illegal immigrants (VIIs) and repatriation arrangements for MIIs. He informed members that the Administration was currently conducting a comprehensive review on various aspects of the policy on VRs, VMs and VIIs. Existing arrangements might have to be revised or modified in the light of new developments and negotiations with concerned parties.

23.The Chairman enquired whether a timetable for the completion of the review could be drawn up, and whether any concrete proposals had so far been worked out. PAS/S(V) replied that as the current review covered a variety of sensitive and complicated issues involving difficult negotiations with outside parties, it was not possible to foresee the timetable for the conclusion of the review at this stage. He advised that the Administration would be meeting with officials of the Vietnamese Government in Vietnam on 23 September 1997. Matters relating to the expediting of the clearance process would be discussed at the meeting. He added that various proposals to speed up the repatriation arrangements would be taken up with the Vietnamese authorities. The Administration would revert to the Panel periodically on progress made in the talks.Adm

24.Mr CHENG Kai-nam said that there had been reports that negotiations between the PRC Government and the Vietnamese Government on issues relating to VRs/VMs/VIIs were in place. Mr LAU Kong-wah pointed out that the Guangdong authorities had revealed that repatriation arrangements had been agreed with the Vietnamese Government and over 1 000 VIIs had been sent back to Vietnam over the past seven months. Members considered that negotiations with the Vietnamese Government by both the HKSAR Government and the Mainland authorities should be syncronized to achieve the best possible result. PAS/S(V) responded that the Administration was seeking advice from both the Central Government as well as a number of East Asian countries on any agreed arrangements they had made with the Vietnamese Government. The Administration undertook to brief the Panel on the outcome in due course.Adm

25.Referring to the statistics on MIIs tabled at the meeting, the Chairman noted that the number of MIIs arrivals in June 1997 had dropped considerably but risen again in July. PAS/S(V) said that one of the reasons might be the strengthening of surveillance at the border immediately before the handover of sovereignty.

26.In response to Mrs Elsie TU's enquiry, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Operations) advised that the maximum imprisonment sentence which had been imposed on employers of illegal workers was nine months. At members' request, the Administration agreed to provide statistics on Vietnamese illegal workers and the sentences imposed. Mrs TU commented that unscrupulous employers would not be deterred from employing illegal workers for just a small fine or light sentence. She requested the Administration to provide further information on the sentences imposed on convicted employers of illegal workers.Adm


27.Mr CHENG Kai-nam pointed out that the statistics on MIIs did not include two-way-permit-holders overstaying in Hong Kong. The Administration undertook to provide the number of such overstayers after the meeting.Adm

VII.Close of meeting

28.The meeting ended at 4:40 pm

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
14 October 1997