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Our direct investigation on “Operational arrangements for statutory visits under Justices of the Peace Visit Programme”

17 August 2021


The Ombudsman announced the launch of the captioned direct investigation (“DI”) on 15 July 2021 and invited members of the public and concern groups to provide information or views on the topic.  As at 16 August 2021, this Office has received enthusiastic response from members of the public and concern groups as well as media enquiries, and has heard the varied voices of other parties, which underline possible misunderstanding by some about our launching this DI.  The Ombudsman hopes to take this opportunity to clarify further this Office’s purposes and procedures of conducting DIs.

The Office of The Ombudsman is an independent statutory organisation established under The Ombudsman Ordinance, Cap 397 of the Laws of Hong Kong, and discharges its functions as prescribed in the Ordinance with a mission to enhance the quality and standard of public administration.  We conduct independent, objective and impartial investigations into individual complaints and DIs on individual topics alike.  We do not just listen to the one-sided opinions of any person or organisation, and would never form partnership with any person or organisation to conduct investigations with a hidden agenda.

In the course of investigation, this Office would invite relevant Government departments/organisations to provide information and response on the subject matter under scrutiny.  Where warranted, we would consider approaching persons/ organisations who may furnish us with useful information and views, meet with the representatives of the relevant Government departments/organisations and conduct site visits, etc.  The aim is to dig out the facts by various means so as to establish the truth.  Our comments and conclusion on the issue under investigation and our recommendations are invariably and always based on facts.  We insist on calling a spade a spade, remain steadfast to the principles of right and wrong, impartiality and equity.  By pointing out the facts and setting out the truth, we are able to make objective and fair comments, and put forward recommendations conducive to the improvement of public administration.

Our DIs are often prompted by significant topical issues of community concern, administrative issues arising from the implementation of new or revised policies by the Government, or repeated complaints to this Office about similar issues.  Our main considerations in launching a DI include whether the topic involves the public interest and is of wide community concern.

Regarding our decision to launch this DI, we have already looked at the complaint cases received and considered the public interest involved and the community’s concern.  Conducting statutory visits at designated institutions is one of the statutory functions of the Justices of the Peace (“JPs”).  Such visits serve as one of the important and independent channels for persons in custody, detained or hospitalised to express their views and lodge complaints.  They also provide a platform for JPs to make comments and suggestions on ways to improve the facilities and service management of the institutions.  In fact, the management organisations of the institutions have been relying heavily on the JP visit system, which has been hailed by them as an important initiative to enhance the transparency of the institutions’ management and boost public confidence.

It has been 22 years since the last review of the JP system by the Government in 1999.  Given such a long lapse, it is only normal that any system or measure still in force should undergo another review.  The JP Visit Programme is no exception.  We had no presuppositions in launching this DI, and had not made any adverse or favourable comments on any relevant Government departments/organisations/persons when we announced its launch.  We have made it clear from the outset that we seek to examine the operational arrangements for JP statutory visits and the follow-up actions afterwards, and to make recommendations for improvement to the Government where necessary.

We declared the launch of this DI on 15 July 2021.  By way of a press release and an announcement on our website, we simultaneously invited members of the public and concern groups to provide written information and views on the topic by 15 August. The investigation is still at the initial stage and it is just a few days since the deadline for collecting public views (i.e. 15 August) has lapsed.  We are now collating and analysing the 150-plus written submissions we have received.  If necessary, we may consider following up further with persons or organisations who have provided us with information or views.  Hitherto, we have not rejected any information or views on the topic or requests for interview from any person/organisation.  Conversely, we have not initiated any meeting with any person/organisation.  Section 12(4) of The Ombudsman Ordinance stipulates that “every investigation shall be conducted in private”; while section 15, the “secrecy provision”, prescribes secrecy in respect of all matters that arise from any investigation or complaint made to this Office.  In this connection, we cannot disclose further any related details.

All these years, we have been striving to raise the standard of public administration by way of DIs.  In fact, this DI covers several Government departments/organisations, including the Administration Wing of the Chief Secretary for Administration’s Office, the Correctional Services Department, Immigration Department, Hospital Authority and Social Welfare Department.  It does not target individual Government departments/organisations or single out any of them.  Since the JP Visit Programme has been in operation for so many years, the investigation would focus on identifying room for improvement, if any, in the operation of and arrangements for the Programme so that it can keep up with the times, and dispelling misunderstanding and doubts about it.  We shall adhere to the aforementioned principles and methodology in conducting this DI, complete the probe and announce the results as soon as possible.  With the above explanation, we hope the public can understand better the purposes and procedures of our DIs.

 

Office of The Ombudsman

For media enquiries, please contact the External Relations Section at enquiry@ombudsman.hk

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