Hong Kong Bar Association offers city leader Carrie Lam blueprint for independent inquiry into protests

Alvin Lum

Hong Kong’s largest barristers group on Tuesday provided the city’s embattled leader with a blueprint for how she might set up an independent inquiry into the unrest of the past seven months, one that would include police, activists and members of the public.

The submission from the Hong Kong Bar Association to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, suggested that the inquiry cover 15 major protests and review 10 specific areas of concern, including the use of force by both police and protesters.

Lam has been reluctant to set up a commission of inquiry with the power to summon witnesses, instead repeatedly saying she preferred to appoint a panel of experts to study a broad array of societal issues.

“Nevertheless, the Hong Kong Bar Association remains of the view that the setting of a commission of inquiry would go a long way in healing the rifts in our community by providing closure through an open investigation into events which had affected the lives of many of our citizens,” wrote Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes SC.

Police officers clash with protesters at Central Station on September 8, 2019. A proposed inquiry by the Hong Kong Bar Association would look into violence by both protesters and police. Photo: Getty Images

In the 67-page bilingual submission, the association suggested the inquiry cover 15 major incidents from June to November, including fierce clashes at Chinese University and Polytechnic University.

Among the 10 suggested areas the inquiry should cover are the use of force by police and protesters, the wearing of masks by demonstrators and officers, problems with arrests, the response of the government and police force, health issues arising from weapons used by various sides, and protesters’ funding sources.

The legal body said the issue of use of force should be given priority, noting public concerns over police’s handling of the protests in various opinion polls.

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It said it recommended the inquiry cover the protesters’ use of force as well, as it would not be comprehensive or fair otherwise.

As to the composition of the panel, the association suggested that either a retired top judge or current non-permanent judge from the Court of Final Appeal be invited to chair the inquiry, after consultation with the judiciary, Law Society and Bar Association.

It said all but two previous inquiries, in 1968 and 1973, have been chaired by judges, lending authority and credibility to what was a judicial proceeding itself.

The remaining six members in the proposed setting could include one doctor, one sociologist, one active or retired police officer or policing expert, one protester or civil activist, and a lay member picked from a jurors list.

“The suggestion to include a police and a protester representative is to ensure that the views, knowledge and experiences of important actors of the unrest are heard in the decision making process of the commission of inquiry,” the submission read.

“Such participation is important to ensure the findings and recommendations of the COI are as grounded in reality as possible.”

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The association made reference to the diverse membership of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in 1996 and the independent commission on policing for Northern Ireland in 1998.

Two political activists and a third health care specialist on violence and trauma rehabilitation were among the 15 members appointed in the South African case, while one serving police officer and three police experts were involved in the inquiry in Northern Ireland.

While Lam has repeatedly suggested a review committee comprised of experts, the association said that set-ups lack of legal powers would fail to address the critical issue of culpability.

“Only when there is open inquiry by a commission of inquiry equipped with the statutory powers to assist it in finding truth and accountability, can there be genuine possibilities of restoration of trust and reconciliation,” the association said.

This article Hong Kong Bar Association offers city leader Carrie Lam blueprint for independent inquiry into protests first appeared on South China Morning Post

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