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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Ombudsman finds ‘room for improvement’ in Justices of the Peace Visit Programme for detainees

Ombudsman finds ‘room for improvement’ in Justices of the Peace Visit Programme for detainees

Hong Kong's Ombudsman said their investigation into the operational arrangements for statutory visits under the Justices of the Peace Visit Programme has found room for improvement and has made 13 recommendations for several government departments.
The JP Visit Programme is administered by the Administration Wing. JP statutory visits now cover 38 institutions, including correctional institutions of the Correctional Services Department, detention centers of the Immigration Department, psychiatric hospitals of the Hospital Authority, as well as remand homes, places of refuge, probation homes, and reformatory schools of the Social Welfare Department.

JPs conduct surprise visits to these institutions on a fortnightly, monthly, or quarterly basis. The JP Visit Programme has been in operation for years since the government's review in 1999.

The Ombudsman Winnie Chiu Wai-yin on Thursday noted that the probe has found institutions of some departments and organizations do not immediately notify all the persons in custody, detained, or hospitalized when JPs arrive at an institution for surprise visits.

The office also said institutions of some departments and organizations also do not inform institutionalized persons that they can, in the interest of privacy, request to meet JPs in private.

“At the same time, mere verbal confirmation by staff of institutions as to whether JPs have seen all institutionalized persons during the visit is not entirely objective or complete.

“On the other hand, some institutionalized persons may not be in the institution during the JP visit for one reason or another. The existing practice of the Correctional Services Department and the Immigration Department of informing them of the JP visit upon their return is one that the Hospital Authority and the Social Welfare Department should learn from,” the Ombudsman said.

Overall, Chiu said the office considers the operation of the JP Visit Programme smooth in general and recognizes the contribution of JPs in this regard.

However, she said there is still room for improvement in the program's operational arrangements, suggesting institutions use all means to notify all inmates or hospitalized persons at different locations that JPs are about to start a visit.

Institutions should also provide visiting JPs with a name list of the persons temporarily away from an institution to help them assess whether they have seen all institutionalized persons during their visit and check whether any persons have been absent from two consecutive JP visits, according to the Ombudsman.

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