The High Court on Thursday ruled that the failure by the police to require anti-riot officers to display their identification numbers in anti-government protests that began last year violated the Bill of Rights governing torture and cruel treatment.
Police officers, including those from the elite Special Tactical Contingent unit commonly known as Raptors, were criticised for not disclosing their numbers during the social unrest. Critics said that made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to identify officers alleged to have used excessive force.
In a written judgement, the court said the rights protected by Article 3 of the Bill of Rights are "absolute and non-derogable" – even at times of public emergencies and no matter how serious they are.
Judge Anderson Chow said the unique number must be worn and displayed prominently to allow victims of police abuse or eyewitnesses to identify those responsible, so that they can take legal action or file complaints.
He went on to say that the identification "cannot be merely through the internal process of the force", otherwise victims alleging ill-treatment would be at the mercy of the police.
While Chow said he’s aware of officers’ concern of being doxxed, “such concern cannot of itself override the duty to maintain an adequate system to investigate suspected cases of breach of [Article 3 of the Bill of Rights].”
The judge added the ID number would not lead directly to the disclosure of a police officer’s identity.
While the police have tried to address people’s concerns by asking officers to wear an operational call sign instead, the judge said it failed to meet the standard of effectiveness of investigation as the call sign is not unique to the officer.
He said once an officer is transferred out of a team, the call sign is recycled and allocated to another officer, adding that there were instances that officers worn the same blue tag and some simply didn’t display them.
"There is absence of evidence that any adequate measure has been put in place by the [Police] Commissioner to ensure that the Call-Signs are properly worn and displayed by police officers deployed in Operation Tiderider, and to take action against officers who have failed to properly wear and display the Call-Signs," the judgement said.
Operation Tiderider refers to all police operations against protesters since June 9 last year.
The judicial reviews were filed by a number of parties, including the Hong Kong Journalists Association, former teacher Yeung Tsz-chun who suffered injuries to his right eye during protests on June 12 last year, as well as activists Kwok Cheuk-kin and Sixtus Leung.
But the judge dismissed two of those applications, saying they have no direct interest in the case.