Extract of minutes of the meeting of LegCo Panel on Security
on 13 October 1998

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IV. Recent riot at the Ma Po Ping Prison
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 382/98-99(06))

36. Deputy Secretary for Security 2 (DS/S(2)) said that on 27 July 1998, an incident occurred at the Ma Po Ping Prison (MPP), during which 19 prisoners and two Correctional Services Department (CSD) staff sustained injuries. As separate complaints had been filed with the Police about assault by CSD staff and the Police's investigation was underway, disclosing the full findings of the Board of Inquiry (the Board) might prejudice their investigation and/ or any criminal proceedings resulting therefrom. Hence, a summary report on the enquiry was provided for members information. DS/S(2) assured members that the Administration would disclose the full report (except the personal data and prison security information in the report) after the completion of the Police's investigation and any criminal proceedings that might be resulted.

37. Noting from para.10(a) of the summary report of the incident, the Board had concluded that the use of force by MPP Correctional Services staff on 27 July 1998 was the minimum necessary and its use was justified in controlling a disturbance, Mrs Selina CHOW wondered if it was premature for the Board to make such conclusion given that an investigation was being carried out by the Police. Even only one CSD officer was found to have applied unnecessary force, such a conclusion would be inappropriate. DS/S(2) said that para.10(a) of the summary report gave an account of the incident. The Board was of the view that the strategy for overall handling the incident by CSD staff on the day was justified in order to prevent the outbreak of a disturbance in MPP. As stated in para.10(c) of the summary report, the Board also noted that individual prisoners had filed complaints against identified CSD officers for applying unnecessary force and had conducted investigation into them. Separate complaints had also been made to the Police who were making their independent investigation.

38. Mrs Selina CHOW opined that the crux of the matter was whether the degree of force used by CSD staff was justified. DS/S(2) said that the use of force would be unjustified if there was no such need in the circumstances. Even if the use of force was needed to control the situation at the first instance, it would be unjustified if the force was applied after the situation was under control. If the complaints against some CSD staff about the use of unnecessary force to prisoners who had already squatted down were substantiated, such act would constitute the use of unjustified and unnecessary force. DS/S(2) added that the Board had also interviewed some 160 prisoners who were present on the day but not directly involved in the incident. There was no corrobative evidence to substantiate the complaints about a general misuse of force by CSD staff to prisoners who had already squatted down. In conclusion, the Administration accepted that the use of force was necessary for overall handling the incident. However, there might be individual CSD staff whose conduct was called into question. Disciplinary hearing against the CSD staff in question had been withheld pending completion of the Police's independent investigation.

39. Miss Emily LAU pointed out that according to the summary report, a disturbance was prevented from outbreak because of the prompt action taken by CSD staff. However, in her recent visit to MPP with another Justice of Peace, they had interviewed a number of prisoners who said that the situation was under control after CSD officers had applied force. She questioned whether any disturbance ever occurred. DS/S(2) said that the Board's findings revealed that, with the CSD staff's early intervention, there was no large scale disturbance. As provided in para. 6 of the summary report, intelligence indicated a potential outbreak of disturbance between two groups of prisoners. The prison management decided that anti-riot equipment should be made ready. During the recreational session on the day, some prisoners were seen clustering together in large groups in close discussion. Towards the end of the session, a group of prisoners were seen approaching a group of prisoners gathered on the other side of the Assembly Yard. CSD staff ordered the crowd to disperse to prevent a possible group fight. Subsequently, some prisoners were seen attempting to snatch batons from staff. If the situation was not brought under control quickly, it would give rise to a major disturbance. The Board was of the view that the prison staff had managed to restore order and discipline among the prisoners quickly, hence containing the situation. She pointed out that it was a violation of prison discipline if prisoners did not act in accordance with the order of CSD staff.

40. Miss Emily LAU said that the Administration had placed undue emphasis on the statements taken from those prisoners who were not involved in the incident. The prisoners interviewed by her and another Justice of Peace stated that they had seen some CSD officers applied unnecessary force to prisoners. She considered that an independent inquiry into the incident should be carried out. AC/IMS said that the Board had conducted a thorough investigation. 247 prisoners were present at MPP on the day. A total of 242 prisoners were interviewed by the Board. Five prisoners were not interviewed as they had been discharged after the incident. Of these five prisoners, one had filed a complaint with the Police and the latter's investigation was underway. Based on the statements taken, the Board noted that over 100 prisoners were seen marching to a group of prisoners at the other side of the Assembly Yard. When CSD staff ordered them to disperse, some did while some 60 prisoners did not follow the instruction and remained at the scene. Disciplinary proceedings had been taken against the prisoners who had violated prison discipline. As a result, only 43 prisoners were found to have violated prison discipline during the incident. Among them, 40 had pleaded guilty and 18 were released due to lack of sufficient evidence. DS/S(2) added that the 242 prisoners interviewed by the Board comprised 78 prisoners who had made complaints to CSD and 164 other prisoners who were also present on the day. In addition, 62 CSD staff were interviewed. She said that the Board did not adopt any arbitrary criteria for selecting interviewees, instead it interviewed every one present on the Assembly Yard on the day. General complaints against CSD staff on the use of unnecessary force to prisoners who had already squatted down were not substantiated due to a lack of corroborative evidence from the statements taken from other prisoners who served as witnesses to the incident. AC/IMS stressed that the Board had made its conclusion after taking into account all the evidence presented by all parties concerned.

41. Regarding the interview carried out by the two Justices of Peace, AC/IMS said that they had interviewed and received complaints from 98 prisoners during their visit on 6 August 1998. The prison management regarded the interview as a channel to receive complaints instead of conducting investigation. An investigation ought to consider views from all parties concerned. She noted, however, that the Justices of Peace had written to the Administration on their interview and the information had been taken into account. She pointed out that the findings of the Board revealed that the use of force by the prison staff was justified in order to control the situation. The Board was set up not to disprove complaints about the use of unncessary force by CSD staff but to find out the true picture based on available information and evidence.

42. The Chairman suggested the Administration to forward the interview report compiled by the two Justices of Peace on the incident and the video-tape kept by CSD to the Police so as to facilitate its investigation.Adm

43. In response to the Chairman, DS/S(2) said that the video-tape taken by CSD officer on the day was provided to the Police. The video-tape did record the use of force by CSD staff. She stressed that the use of force did not necessarily constitute any violation of Prison Rules. The crux of the matter was whether CSD staff had applied unnecessary or excessive force to prisoners where there was no such need.

44. In response to Mrs Selina CHOW, DS/S(2) said that the Administration did not have detail information regarding the number and the content of the complaints being filed with the Police. The Police would conduct separate and independent investigation into individual complaints in the first instance. Should new evidence be identified in the course of investigation, the Police would expand the scope of investigation as appropriate. AC/IMS added that as far as she knew, at least three prisoners had lodged complaints with the Police, including one filed by an ex-prisoner and two filed by family members on behalf of two serving prisoners.

45. Miss Emily LAU queried how the Administration could restore the confidence of the prisoners and members of the public in prison management without an independent inquiry. DS/S(2) said that apart from setting up a Board of Inquiry to look into the incident, the Police, The Ombudsman, some Legislative Council Members and Justices of Peace had also received complaints from prisoners about the use of unnecessary force by CSD staff during the incident. The Police was carrying out a criminal investigation into allegations of assault by identified CSD officers upon the prisoners. The Ombudsman had started collecting information on the incident. As several independent investigations were underway, she believed that what had happened during the incident could not be covered up and would be revealed in due course.

46. Regarding the role of visiting Justices, DS/S(2) said that under the Prison Rules, each penal institution should be visited by an official Justice of Peace and an unofficial Justice of Peace at least once every fortnight. The recent visit to MPP by the two Justices of Peace was not scheduled under the Prison Rules. Visiting Justices could hear and investigate complaints made by prisoners, inspect diets of prisoners and sanitary conditions of the penal institutions. Due to the limited resources made available to visiting Justices of Peace, they would normally refer to the Commissioner of Correctional Services for follow-up upon receiving any views or complaints from the prisoners. If the visiting Justices concerned were dissatisfied with the Commissioner's report, they could refer the case to The Ombudsman for an independent investigation. The Chairman suggested the Administration to consider reviewing the visiting Justices system in order to strengthen the system such as resource available to Justices of Peace to conduct investigation.Adm

47. In response to Mrs Selina CHOW, DS/S(2) said that the Police had concluded the preliminary investigation which had been referred to the Department of Justice. She hoped the report would be completed shortly.

48. The Chairman asked the Administration to keep the Panel informed of the outcome of the Police's investigation. DS/S(2) agreed.Adm

49. The meeting ended at 7:25 pm.

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