LCQ9: Illegal carriage of passengers for reward
The Office of the Ombudsman (the Office) stated in the Annual Report of the Ombudsman 2016 that the number of prosecutions instituted by the Police in the past few years against illegal carriage of passengers for reward by private cars (commonly known as "white licence cars' service") was low, and urged the Transport Department to closely monitor the figures of such prosecutions and enhance its communication with the Police in their continued efforts to combat such crimes. The Office also pointed out that companies providing booking of white licence cars' services via mobile apps, though not issued with hire car permits, were in effect operating as business operators because such companies recruited drivers, set fares for hiring cars, promoted business, or even collected on behalf of the drivers and then shared the fares paid by passengers. Such companies were of considerable scale of operation and also earned substantial profits. If the Government failed to effectively regulate such operators, more followers would be attracted to join the practice, and the problem would only get worse. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of prosecutions and convictions in each of the past three years relating to the use of private cars and van-type light goods vehicles (LGVs) for illegal carriage of passengers for reward, as well as the respective penalties imposed on the persons convicted;
(2) whether the prosecution lodged reviews in the past three years against the penalties handed down for convicted cases of illegal carriage of passengers for reward; if so, of the details, including the considerations for lodging reviews; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) given that in reply to my question on March 1 this year, the authorities indicated that they would continue to closely monitor the illegal carriage of passengers for reward by private cars and relevant prosecution figures, and that the Police would step up its efforts in combating offences relating to illegal carriage of passengers for reward, of the details of such work;
(4) given that the authorities also indicated that they would timely review the penalties for such offences where necessary, of the progress of the work, and whether they will consider introducing a penalty provision that vehicles used for illegal carriage of passengers for reward may be subject to confiscation so as to enhance the deterrent effect; and
(5) whether the authorities will regulate companies providing booking of white licence cars services or services of illegal carriage of passengers by LGVs?
The Government has been paying close attention to the use of private cars and light goods vehicles (LGVs) for illegal carriage of passengers for reward. The Police will not tolerate such offences, and will take stern enforcement action.
My reply to the various parts of the Hon Frankie Yick's question is as follows.
(1) In each of the three years between 2014 and 2016, the Police took enforcement action against four, 20 and 14 cases of use of private cars, and 15, 38 and four cases of use of LGVs respectively for illegal carriage of passengers for reward. The maximum fine, term of imprisonment and driving disqualification period imposed by the court in the above cases were $5,000, six weeks and 12 months respectively.
(2) The court makes its judgment based on the actual circumstances of individual cases. If the Government sees a need to follow up on the sentence (because, for example, the sentence has proceeded on an error of law or of principle; or that it is manifestly inadequate or excessive), it may apply to the court for a review of the sentence in accordance with established procedures. According to the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Police, the usual factors to take into account when considering lodging an appeal against a sentence include relevant precedents, the gravity of the offence(s) committed by the offender(s) (e.g. whether the case involved casualties), and the trend(s) of the offence(s) concerned. During the past three years, the Government did not lodge any appeal against sentences imposed in the cases of illegal carriage of passengers for reward by private cars or LGVs.
(3) The Government has been keeping in view the use of private cars and LGVs for illegal carriage of passengers for reward, as well as the related prosecution figures. Meanwhile, the Police continue to step up their efforts to combat the relevant offences. The Police will gather intelligence, and investigate and follow up any referral case received. Where necessary, the Police will seek legal advice from the DoJ and take prosecution action. In fact, the Police have been combating the relevant offences through multiple "decoy operations" in recent years.
(4) and (5) The existing legislation has prescribed comprehensive penalties for the use of private cars and LGVs for illegal carriage of passengers for reward. Subsections (3), (5) and (10)(a) of section 52 and Schedule 4 of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374) (RTO) stipulate that an offender who uses a private car or LGV for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward, or who solicits or attempts to solicit any person to travel in such vehicles, is liable to a fine of $5,000 and three months' imprisonment on the first conviction. The licence of the subject vehicle may also be suspended for three months. On the second or subsequent conviction, the person is liable to a fine of $10,000 and six months' imprisonment. For a subsequent offence in respect of the same motor vehicle, the licence of that vehicle may be suspended for six months. Under section 69 of the RTO, a person convicted of any offence under the RTO in connection with the driving of a motor vehicle may be disqualified to drive by the court for such period as the court thinks fit. The relevant provisions are also applicable to companies or persons who provide booking services for illegal carriage of passengers for reward by private cars or LGVs through smartphone applications. Currently, we have no plans to introduce a penalty to impound vehicles involved in the offence. Nevertheless, the Government will continue to closely monitor the related prosecution figures and the use of private cars and LGVs for illegal carriage of passengers for reward, and will conduct timely reviews on the penalties for the related offences where necessary.
Ends/Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:10
Issued at HKT 16:10