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LCQ5: Insulting public officers enforcing the laws
     Following is a question by Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (March 22):


     Last month, in response to the question on enacting legislation to prohibit acts of insulting police officers on duty, the Commissioner of Police indicated that he welcomed another piece of legislation to protect police officers in the enforcement of the law. In addition, quite a number of members of the public have pointed out that in recent years, incidents of protesters and offending drivers insulting and provoking police officers with abusive language have occurred from time to time. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the legal provisions that the authorities may invoke currently to institute prosecutions against persons who have insulted police officers on duty; the respective numbers of prosecutions and convictions as well as the penalties imposed on the convicted persons in the past three years; whether the convicted persons include protesters who participated in the occupation movement in 2014 or the riot in Mong Kok in February last year;

(2) whether it has studied overseas legislation on the offence of insulting public officers and the enforcement of such legislation in recent years; if so, of the details, and whether the study outcome will be made public, so as to enhance public understanding of the relevant issues and form the basis for the discussions on the enactment of such legislation in the future; and

(3) given that the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance and the Births and Deaths Registration Ordinance contain provisions prohibiting any person from using abusive language to the relevant public officers, whether the authorities will make reference to those provisions and enact dedicated legislation to prohibit acts of insulting police officers and other public officers; if not, how the authorities prevent such acts from becoming increasingly rampant?



     With regard to Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat's question, after consulting the Civil Service Bureau, I provide below a consolidated reply:

     Hong Kong is a society under the rule of law. The law stipulates what behaviours are beyond social norms, and those who break the law should be brought to justice. To embody the rule of law, it requires not only comprehensive statutory provisions and effective law enforcement, but also people's awareness and observance of the law. Public officers, including disciplined services and non-disciplined services officers, perform their duties to safeguard the overall interest of the Hong Kong community and citizens' legitimate rights. They are absolutely not seeking personal gains or making life difficult for the general public with intent. 

     All along, public officers enforcing the laws have been performing their duties in a professional and impartial manner in accordance with the law to serve the community with dedication. They should be respected and not be insulted verbally or by any acts. However, in recent years, there were frequent occurrences of incidents where public officers undertaking law enforcement duties were arbitrarily insulted or provoked by members of the public, who even had scuffles with the former in some cases. This has greatly increased the work stress of public officers and the difficulties in performing their duties, dampening their morale and passion for serving the public. Such circumstances are certainly not conducive to the benefit of Hong Kong.

      Currently, when a person resists, obstructs or assaults a public officer undertaking law enforcement duties, the responsible authorities may, in light of the actual circumstances, invoke relevant ordinances to initiate prosecution. For instance, section 23 of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228) stipulates that any person who resists or obstructs a public officer or other person lawfully engaged, authorised or employed in the performance of any public duty shall be liable to a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for 6 months.  From 2014 to September 2016, a total of 189 persons were convicted for committing the above offences.  Section 17B of the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245) stipulates that any person who in any public place behaves in a noisy or disorderly manner, or uses any writing containing threatening, abusive or insulting words, with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be caused, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for 12 months.

     With regard to the protection for police officers in the execution of their duties, according to section 36(b) of the Offences against the Person Ordinance (OAPO) (Cap. 212), any person who assaults, resists, or wilfully obstructs any police officer in the due execution of his duty or any person acting in aid of such officer shall be liable to imprisonment for 2 years on conviction of the offence after being tried either summarily or upon indictment. Section 39 of OAPO stipulates that any person who commits an assault occasioning actual bodily harm shall be liable to imprisonment for 3 years after conviction upon being tried on indictment. Section 40 of OAPO also stipulates that any person who is convicted of a common assault shall be liable to imprisonment of 1 year. In addition, section 63 of the Police Force Ordinance (Cap. 232) states that any person who assaults or resists any police officer acting in the execution of his duty or aids or incites any person so to assault or resist, or refuses to assist any such officer in the execution of his duty when called upon to do so, or who, by the giving of false information with intent to defeat or delay the ends of justice, wilfully misleads or attempts to mislead such officer, shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 and to imprisonment for 6 months.

     As for other disciplined services, including the Immigration Department, the Customs and Excise Department, and the Fire Services Department, there are statutory provisions stipulating that any person who assaults, resists, or obstructs any officer in the due execution of his duty shall be guilty of an offence and liable to punishment ranging from a fine of $2,000 to imprisonment for 6 months.

     While there are existing legislation (including the Mass Transit Railway By-laws (Cap. 556B), Hospital Authority Bylaws (Cap. 113A), Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Regulations (Cap. 374D), Airport Authority Bylaw (Cap. 483A), Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), etc.) forbidding any person to curse others, or to use obscene, offensive, revolting or annoying languages, or to cause obstruction or unpleasantness to others in specified places, such as railway premises, hospitals, public vehicles, airport, parks, sports venues, bathing beaches etc., the coverage of the legislation prohibiting acts of insulting public officers undertaking law enforcement duties, which is of concern to members, is not comprehensive.

     Recently, the issue of whether it is necessary to legislate for the "offence of insulting public officers enforcing the laws" has aroused heated discussion again in society. I notice that public views on this issue are divergent and even polarised. Opinions in support of the enactment of legislation mostly consider that the community is restless, conflicts are mounting and public officers enforcing the laws are facing increasingly heavy pressure. Therefore, the Government should legislate to protect public officers enforcing the laws from being arbitrarily insulted. Opposing views hold that the enactment of such a legislation will cause further social division and even restrict the public's freedom of speech and expression, thus creating more unnecessary rows and conflicts. 

     For the Government to undertake any legislative work, it has to prudently consider in a wholistic approach all opinions, including those for and against it, whether the expected goals and effects can be achieved through legislation, whether the offence has a clearly defined scope of regulation, the elements involved, whether there are acceptable grounds of defence, and the appropriate penalties, etc. 

     At this stage, although the Government has no plan to legislate against the act of insulting public officers enforcing the laws, we remain open on whether to legislate, and will explore its feasibility, and continue to listen to the views of all parties. We will also gather from other jurisdictions information on relevant regulations, precedents, the effectiveness of enforcement and the problems encountered for study. Should the Government have any legislative proposals, we will consult the relevant panel(s) of the Legislative Council. 

     President, I reiterate that due respect should be given to public officers enforcing the laws, as they have always been serving the public in an impartial manner. In all circumstances, arbitrary acts of insulting others are improper and unacceptable in a civilised society. We hope that everybody will appreciate and respect public officers enforcing the laws, be self-disciplined and abide by the law, and be co-operative and supportive to their work. 

     Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Issued at HKT 18:53
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