LCQ20: Review on long-term and indeterminate sentences
The Long-term Prison Sentences Review Ordinance (Cap. 524) provides that long-term and indeterminate sentences of prisoners must be referred to the Long-term Prison Sentences Review Board (the Review Board) for review according to specified schedules. Some family members of prisoners serving long-term or indeterminate sentences have relayed to me their concerns about the number of cases which have been recommended by the Review Board, both for the remission of determinate sentences or for the substitution of determinate sentences for indeterminate ones. With regard to the review of long-term and indeterminate sentences, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of a comparison between Hong Kong and other major common law jurisdictions in the number of cases reviewed, recommended and approved in each of the past five years;
(2) of the number of applications made by prisoners to appear before the Review Board to be heard and to make oral representations on matters relevant to the review, either personally or through a representative of the prisoner’s choice, in each of the past five years; the number of such applications approved and rejected, with details on the decisions made; and
(3) of the means through which prisoners (i) are informed of their right to obtain legal representation, and (ii) obtain legal representation?
The Long-term Prison Sentences Review Board (the Board) is an independent statutory body established pursuant to the Long-term Prison Sentences Review Ordinance (Cap. 524) (the Ordinance). Its main functions include reviewing the indeterminate sentences or long-term prison sentences of 10 years or more of persons in custody (PICs). Under section 6 of the Ordinance, the Board shall consist of 8 to 11 members appointed by the Chief Executive (CE). The President and Deputy President must be judges or former judges of the Court of First Instance. Other members include persons with expertise and experience in various disciplines such as psychiatry, psychology, social work, law, education, commerce and industry, etc. Under section 11 of the Ordinance, the Commissioner of Correctional Services shall refer cases of PICs serving the aforementioned sentences to the Board for sentence review in accordance with the stipulated review schedules.
The Board would review each case on its own merits and consider all the relevant factors, including the nature of the offence committed by the PIC, the length of the sentence already served, whether the PIC has repented his wrongdoing, and the possible impact on public safety, etc. Where there are sufficient justifications, the Board may recommend to the CE that a determinate sentence be remitted, or an indeterminate sentence be substituted by a determinate one. The CE will decide whether to commute the penalties.
The numbers of cases of indeterminate and long-term determinate sentences reviewed and recommended by the Board to the CE from January 2012 to March 2017 are at Annex. We do not have similar statistics in respect of other major common law jurisdictions, which may differ among one another in their sentence review and commutation mechanisms.
The Board normally meets quarterly to review cases referred by the Commissioner of Correctional Services. About three months prior to a review, the Board Secretariat would notify the PICs concerned in writing of the date of the review, the powers of the Board and the PICs' right to make written representations to the Board. To facilitate the PICs' understanding of the operation of the sentence review mechanism and their rights, the said notification is accompanied by a copy of the relevant statutory provisions on the function and duties of the Board, the principles on which the Board is required under the Ordinance to follow, and the matters that may be taken into account by the Board. Among the rights to which the PIC is entitled and of which he would be informed prior to a review are that the PIC may make written representations to the Board and may, with the consent of the Board, appear before the Board, either personally or through a representative of the PIC's choice (including a legal representative), to be heard and to make oral representations with respect to matters relevant to the review. The Board will assess the merits of a request for making oral representations on a case-by-case basis. Of the nine requests for making oral representations by PICs or their representatives in the past five years, the Board gave consent to three. Where consent is not given, it was mainly because the sentences that have been served by the PICs were relatively short, or the PICs failed to provide sufficient justifications on why written representations were not adequate.
Ends/Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:53
Issued at HKT 15:53