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Friday, Dec 04, 2020

Hong Kong protests: double blow for Carrie Lam as judges snub chance to lead investigation into unrest, and Beijing rules out inquiry into police use of force

Sources say several retired judges turned down opportunity to lead review committee looking at causes of social unrest. Protesters want an independent commission of inquiry into police as one of their five demands

Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has suffered a double blow in her efforts to meet public demands for a proper investigation into the use of force by police against anti-government protesters and the underlying causes behind six months of social unrest.

A source close to the government said several retired judges had turned down offers to head an independent review committee to look into the problems, while the chief executive had drawn a negative response from Beijing when she raised the question of forming a commission of inquiry during her duty visit to the capital last week.

It was not clear if she brought the matter before President Xi Jinping or Premier Li Keqiang during her four-day trip, which ended on Tuesday. Xi expressed strong support for the city’s police to firmly enforce the law during his meeting with Lam on Monday.

While an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct has long been a core demand of the protest movement, Lam is worried about alienating the force when her government is relying heavily on police to curb protest violence.

The source said the government had approached a few retired judges over the past two months to take up the chair of the independent review committee, which is being set up instead to investigate the underlying causes of the protests.

The Post understands the government favours a retired judge for the position, and Andrew Li Kwok-nang, Hong Kong’s first chief justice, was its top choice.

When approached by the Post on Thursday, Li said he had no comment on whether he had been offered the role.

The city has been gripped by civil unrest and street protests since June, sparked by fierce opposition to the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Several opinion polls indicate that most Hongkongers support an independent inquiry, but Lam has insisted on leaving all questions over police conduct during the protests to the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).

The credibility of the process has been further called into question after five overseas experts invited to take part in the investigation stood aside after finding the mechanism ineffective.

Lam said last month an independent review committee would be set up as well to find out the underlying causes of the turmoil.
On Monday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong outlined the powers of the proposed panel, which is to look into the socio-economic and political causes.

The committee, however, will not make conclusions or adjudicate on individual complaints against the police force, which the government wants left to the IPCC, an organisation that protesters accuse of lacking independence and lacking sufficient investigative powers.

On Tuesday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung shot down the need to give the review committee subpoena powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.

Lam admitted on Monday that some people might be worried about being bullied online if they worked for the government, responding to a question on whether it was facing difficulty in recruiting candidates for the review committee. But she remained confident that appropriate candidates would be found.

Law said earlier it was unlikely the panel would be in place by the end of this year.

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