LCQ15: Enacting legislation to prohibit acts of insulting other persons

     Following is a question by the Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs, Miss Alice Mak, in the Legislative Council today (July 13):
     There are views pointing out that a number of incidents involving insulting other persons have happened in Hong Kong in recent years. Such acts not only trample on other persons' dignity and damage their reputation, but also encourage the trend of bullying in the community. Moreover, it is learnt that quite a number of public officers, while discharging duties, have experienced they themselves and their family members being insulted. 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 (i) other persons and (ii) public officers on duty; the respective numbers of the relevant prosecutions and convictions as well as the penalties imposed on the convicted persons in the past three years; whether such convicted persons include protesters who participated in the riots in 2019;
(2) whether it has compiled statistics on the number of public officers who were insulted in the past three years while on duty, with a breakdown by the government departments to which such officers belonged;
(3) as the Government indicated last year that it would study the scope of the relevant insult offences, of the progress of such work; whether it will, by drawing reference from the legislation of Macao, stipulate that it is an offence to hurl abuse at and thereby defaming another person, and that if the insult is directed at a public officer on duty, an "aggravated insult offence" will even have been committed; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(4) as it has been reported that there are currently about 15 places in the world where targeted legal provisions have been enacted to prohibit insults to public officers on duty, and the Diet of Japan even increased in June this year the penalties for insult offences and acts such as online defamation and vilification, and yet Hong Kong has been discussing the relevant issues for more than six years at the least, whether the Government will expeditiously legislate against insult offences, with a view to safeguarding members of the public against insults and bullies as well as safeguarding public officers on duty; if so, of the details and the timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and
(5) of the Government's specific measures in place, before enacting legislation to prohibit acts of insulting other persons, to prevent such acts from becoming increasingly rampant, and whether it will step up publicity and education efforts?
     Having consulted the Security Bureau and Civil Service Bureau (CSB), I provide a reply to Hon Elizabeth Quat's question as follows:
(1) Currently, based on the actual circumstances of each case, the Police may institute prosecutions against persons who have insulted others or public officers on duty pursuant to relevant legal provisions. For instance, section 24 on criminal intimidation (with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 5 years), sections 9 and 10 on offences relating to seditious intention of the Crimes Ordinance (Cap. 200), section 23 of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228) on resisting or obstructing a public officer or other person performing public duty (with a maximum penalty of a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for 6 months), and section 17B of the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245) on behaving in a noisy or disorderly manner in public place, or using any writing containing threatening, abusive or insulting words with intent to provoke a breach of the peace (with a maximum penalty of a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for 12 months).
     With regard to the above-mentioned provisions, the Police have not maintained a breakdown of the cases relating to insulting others or public officers on duty. In the past three years, the numbers of prosecutions, convictions and penalties imposed on the convicted persons under section 23 of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228) were as follows:
Year 2019 2020 2021
Number of persons prosecuted in cases concluded 49 46 58
Number of persons convicted in cases concluded 41 30 43
Penalties (a) Immediate imprisonment 9 4 14
  (b) Probation Order 1 2 2
  (c) Community Service Order 6 9 3
  (d) Others (Note) 25 15 24
Note: including fines, suspended sentences, detention in training centres and detention centres, etc.
(2) Civil servants may face a myriad of situations in their day-to-day work. The Government has not maintained statistics on the number of cases relating to civil servants being insulted while on duty.
(3) and (4) It was mentioned in the Policy Address announced in October 2021 that the Government would review or revive existing legislations to ensure that, on the mission of comprehensively safeguarding national security, relevant laws are available to the enforcement authorities for action and strict enforcement, so as to bring offenders to account. Issues which need to be addressed include combating fake news, hate speeches and insults to public officers, etc. The Home and Youth Affairs Bureau has commissioned a consultancy to study legislation enacted in overseas jurisdictions for regulating disinformation in recent years and the relevant law enforcement experience, with a view to providing references for the Government's future work. Once the relevant study has been concluded, the Government will report to the Legislative Council the proposed action plan. As regards other areas like insults to public officers, the Government will commence the relevant research work as appropriate.
(5) As regards promotion and education, the CSB has made use of different channels to enhance public understanding of the nature of work of civil servants, so as to better put across the message that civil servants are serving the community with professionalism and impartiality and hence deserve respect. Moreover, to enhance the capability and skills of civil servants in handling difficult situations at work, the CSB published the Reference Guide on Handling Verbal Violence at Work in 2018, providing general guidelines to all civil servants for reference. In addition, the CSB has been implementing, at central level, multi-pronged measures such as provision of training and hotline counselling service to raise colleagues' capacity in coping with and reducing verbal conflict incidents, and helping them to manage stress and maintain mental well-being. At the same time, dedicated seminars for supervisory staff have also been organised in order to strengthen their capacity in supporting frontline staff in handling issues relating to communications with the public.
     Besides, the Police has organised diversified activities and collaborated with relevant stakeholders under its publicity and public education programmes, with a view to instilling right values and raising citizens' law-abiding awareness. Furthermore, for the purpose of crime prevention and detection, the Police has been conducting "cyber patrol" from time to time to search for relevant information and crime-related information via online public platforms and taking corresponding investigation, arrest and prosecution actions.

Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:10