An international panel of experts says that the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Council, needs more powers if it is to conduct a rigorous inquiry into the policing of the protests in Hong Kong. It follows an announcement last September by the IPCC that five foreign experts would be joining its panel to study police conduct during the extradition bill saga.
In a Position Statement Report of Progress tweeted by one of the experts, Clifford Stott of Keele University, on Saturday, the expert panel said:
"The Independent Expert Panel conducted a stock-take this week which reveals some advance by the IPCC Taskforce, but structural limitations in the scope and powers of the IPCC Inquiry remain, inhibiting its ability to establish a coherent and representative body of evidence.
"The stock-take concludes that the IPCC needs to substantially enhance its capacity: to assemble a coherent account of the facts from police and other bodies; to access important documents and validate accounts supplied by police and others in a timely fashion; and to significantly improve its capability to identify and secure evidence from key witnesses outside policing."
Protesters and critics, including some well-known rights groups, have accused the police of using excessive force and abusing their power and have called for an independent probe into the behaviour of officers.
But the government has rejected this demand, saying the existing mechanism is enough to address the issue. Complaints made against police officers are investigated by the force itself and the IPCC can only monitor how these probes are carried out. The IPCC does not have any investigative power.
The panel also suggested that an independent inquiry may be the best way to proceed, assuming changes can be made to the way the IPCC works.
"As a group we believe it may be possible to provide an interim report with limited, but sufficient facts to allow preliminary conclusions to be drawn on some of the drivers on protest, the handling of key events, and the evolution of the disturbances.
"But for that to happen, the IPCC will have to revise its resources and processes. It remains to be seen whether it can do this in short order. If it can, we believe it may provide a compelling case for the next steps including a deeper more comprehensive inquiry in a number of respects by an independent body with requisite powers, but also enable action to commence on improvements that can be made in the shorter term."
The five-member expert panel is headed by Sir Denis O’Connor who served as a top official in the British police until 2012. Other members are Colin Doherty, who headed the police watchdog in New Zealand; Michael Adams QC from Australia; Prof Clifford Stott, a social psychology academic from Keele University in the UK; as well as Gerry McNeilly, a former head of a civilian watchdog that monitors police in Canada.
In response, the government said it would study all the recommendations made by the IPCC and study what further action might be taken after the watchdog had submitted its report. It added that the IPCC report would focus on fact-finding, stressing that it would not be the only final report.