on 19 February 1998
Provisional LegCo Panel on Security
Measures to Prevent " Fabrication of Evidence "
This paper informs Members of the measures to prevent the occurrence of innocent persons being framed by Police officers. It also elaborates on the procedures for recording and processing crime reports, the complaints handling procedures and the penalties imposed on the Police officer(s) concerned if a complaint on fabrication of evidence (FOE) is substantiated.
2.The Commissioner of Police takes a serious view on framing of innocent persons by Police officers. The vision of the Police Force is to preserve Hong Kong as one of the safest cities in the world. The Police Force understands that maintaining public confidence is of utmost importance in realising the vision. As such, integrity and honesty are the most treasured values. The Police Force has no place for those officers who use illegal means to tackle crimes.
3. The Police Force considers that the best way to prevent fabrication of evidence by Police officers is to enhance the quality of Police officers and improve the procedures in handling evidence, coupled with the strengthening of the complaints system. This approach is implemented by way of -
- enhancing the quality of Police officers through careful recruitment and training. In 1996/97, the 740 new recruits of Police Constables were selected from about 10,000 applicants. In addition, the percentage of Police Constable recruits who are academically qualified for Probationary Inspectors rose from 18.4% in the financial year of 1988/1989 to 31.7% in 1997/98 (up to January 1998). This reflects the improvement in quality of the front-line Police officers;
- inculcating a high standard of ethics and values among Police officers through various channels like training courses and seminars. "Integrity and honesty" are the first among the eight values in the "Vision and Statement of Common Purpose and Values". In 1997, about 1,600 seminars on promotion of ethics and values were held for all officers including both the disciplined and civilian staff;
- placing the work of investigating officers including collection of evidence to be presented before the court under close scrutiny by their supervisors (see paragraphs 5 & 6).;
- taking a serious view on Police officers framing persons and instituting criminal/disciplinary actions against officers concerned by the Police Force management;
- enhancing the existing Police complaints system (see paragraphs 7 - 9). All investigatons conducted by the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) are subject to vigorous scrutiny by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) before they are endorsed; and
- heightening the awareness of the formation commanders through monthly report on the trend of complaints including any malpractice or misconduct so that they may take necessary preventive measures.
4. The above measures are strengthened by the gradual introduction of video-taping interviews in 1993 which has enhanced the transparency of the statement taking processing and the admissibility of confession statements. The Police currently have 11 Video Interview Rooms (VIRs) at selected bureaux, regional crime headquarters and Detective Training School. It is planned to increase the number of VIRs to 60, i.e. at least one VIR in every major divisional Police station, within this year.
Procedures for Recording & Processing Crime Reports
5. There are well established procedures for Police officers to follow when handling reports of crime to prevent FOE cases. All reports of crime, e.g. indecent assault, wounding and disorder/fighting in a public place, are recorded at the police station or formation receiving it. Except for very minor crimes such as common assault, minor dangerous drugs offences, street gambling and traffic offences which will be handled by the Duty Officer (normally at the rank of Station Sergeant), witness statements and other evidence taken down by the investigating officers of all other cases are checked by their immediate supervisor and also the Inspector in charge of the crime investigation team. If the crime report results in charges being laid against a person, the details of the evidence in support of each charge will be prepared by the officer in charge of the case and checked by an officer of at least Inspectorate. The Department of Justice's advice will be sought when there are doubts, e.g. the kind of charges to be imposed, the side of the party to be prosecuted and the appropriate venue for trial. All cases to District Court or above are scrutinized by a Government Counsel or above and all Magistrate Court cases are reviewed by the Court Prosecutors before proceeding with the prosecution.
Complaints Handling Procedures
6. CAPO will investigate all "FOE" complaints, no matter whether they are received from the public or made in court. There is a dedicated crime team consisting of 24 Police officers and headed by a Chief Inspector to handle the more serious cases. Where the case involves an officer at a rank higher than Chief Inspector, it will be handled by a senior officer. In all cases, the person in charge of an investigation must be at least one rank higher than the officer being inspected. In addition, to ensure a fair and impartial investigation, CAPO will not delegate a "FOE" investigation to the Police Division in which the complainee is working.
7. If a Police officer is found to be at fault, CAPO would either institute criminal proceedings or take internal disciplinary action against the officer concerned. CAPO would seek advice from the Department of Justice to decide if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the officer concerned. In general, officers proven to be involved in "FOE" cases are normally charged under "perverting the course of public justice" and subject to a maximum imprisonment term for 7 years and unlimited fine. Should there be insufficient evidence to take criminal action, disciplinary action will be considered.
8. Upon the completion of the investigation, CAPO will submit a full report to the IPCC which is responsible for monitoring and reviewing investigations of complaints against Police conducted by CAPO. The IPCC is an independent civilian body consisting of non-official members appointed by the Chief Executive from a wide spectrum of personalities from the community. The results of CAPO investigations are subject to vigorous scrutiny by the IPCC before they are endorsed. When examining the investigation reports, the IPCC can ask CAPO to clarify areas of doubt or even request CAPO to reinvestigate a complaint if it is not satisfied with the results of the investigation. If the IPCC is still not satisfied with CAPO's reinvestigation, it can draw a case to the attention of the Chief Executive with its own recommendations. In discharging its duties, the IPCC can also interview witnesses including the complainants, the complainees and professional such as forensic pathologists for expert advice. In addition, through the IPCC Observer Scheme, IPCC Members can conduct scheduled and surprise observations of CAPO investigations in persons.
9. To further enhance the transparency and credibility of the Police complaints system, the Government is implementing a total of 48 improvement measures arising from an independent review of CAPO procedures and a comparative study of overseas police complaint systems. For example, the IPCC has set up a special panel to monitor serious cases on which it will submit its findings in a special report to the Chief Executive.
Follow up on unfavourable comments from Courts
10. Some Members have expressed concern about the follow-up action the Police Force will take on cases where the court has made unfavourable comments on the statements taken or made by the Police officers during the trial. In the event a court opines that a Police officer has lied under oath or has provided a false statement, the Secretary for Justice will consider prosecution subject to evidence available. Disciplinary action will be considered if there is insufficient evidence to take criminal action. For cases where a court has commented unfavourably on the veracity and manner in which evidence is collected and presented by a Police officer, an immediate and full examination would be conducted to identify the problem. Relevant procedures will be reviewed and strengthened if necessary. Lessons learned will be disseminated via internal circulars.
11. The Police Force management is determined to enshrine "integrity and honesty" in the Force's culture. There are established procedural safeguards to ensure that the work of Police officers is conducted in an impartial and professional manner. Further, all cases are scrutinized by the Department of Justice before they are put to court for a fair and independent trial. On top of that, Hong Kong is an open society with various channels of complaints open to the public so that any grievances will receive appropriate attention.