The Hong Kong Police Force has dropped the presumption of innocence from its public statements regarding deadly road crash arrestees, using a copy-paste sentence to “condemn” drivers arrested for dangerous driving causing death – and the Department of Justice has refused to comment on the move.
Police started adding a strongly-worded accusatory sentence at the end of press releases on serious crash arrests around June this year.
The latest came this week, after a fatal crash in Tuen Mun and where a 65-year-old cement truck driver, Mr Yeung, was arrested for dangerous driving causing death of a 65-year-old man on a bicycle.
“Police strongly condemn the irresponsible driving behaviour of the driver,” police said in a press release about the arrest.
In the Tuen Mun case above, the case is still under investigation by the Special Investigation Team of Traffic, New Territories North, with police still appealing for witnesses to come forward.
While police often publicly condemn general behaviours of, for example, crowds at protests, once a person is charged with a crime those charged have an explicit right to a presumption of innocence.
Under Hong Kong’s “Bill of Rights” (Cap 383), “everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.”
That section of Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights is drawn from Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has refused to ratify since signing in 1998.
When asked if the police statement against the Tuen Mun crash driver, as an example, contravened Hong Kong law, a Department of Justice spokesman said “The Department of Justice does not comment on the press release of other Law Enforcement Agency [sic].”
Police did not directly answer questions on the issue but said “changing the irresponsible behaviour of road users” was a priority for the police in 2022.
“To strengthen drivers’ law-abiding awareness, Police will continue to monitor the traffic situation and adopt a proactive approach on traffic enforcement actions against traffic offences and irresponsible behaviours of road users, and will continue [to] publicise relevant messages through different channels,” a spokesman said.
A study of language used by police in other English-language jurisdictions where the legal premise of “innocent until proven guilty” is respected showed police forces refraining from speculation on the cause of death, while no recent press releases from five English-speaking jurisdictions examined were found “condemning” an arrested suspect or even blaming them for a crash.
One journalist in the UK said they wouldn’t even use the word “driver” once a driver had been arrested as British crime reporting guidelines were very strict on what journalists could say following an arrest and while a case was pending.
When shown the language of a Hong Kong police press release, the British journalist said it was “wild”.