After the Hong Kong Government gradually restricted company searches in the name of preventing “doxxing” and protecting personal data, the Judiciary, which always emphasized its independence, has suddenly tightened the information it disseminates to the media from yesterday. When court reporters from various media organizations went to the Magistrates’ Court yesterday (March 30) to inspect the charge sheets, they found that a number of information had been redacted, including the information relating to officers-in-charge. The HKJA is concerned that the judiciary has abandoned its independence and following the administration’s policy in the name of balancing personal data privacy will seriously jeopardize the principle of open justice.
The seven Magistrates’ courts under the supervision of the Judiciary have always allowed media to access information on charge sheets, including the age, date of birth, occupation, residential address, nationality, the charge, as well as the name of the officer-in-charge of the case and the team they belong to and their rank, etc. Such information enable the press to better understand the details of the case so that they can prepare more accurate media reports. In response to this HKJA’s inquiry yesterday, the Judiciary stated: “Since the provision of personal data involving privacy may impair the proper execution of judicial work and is not proportionate to the reasons for judicial disclosure, the information including defendant’s date of birth, ID number, address, and personal information of the officer-in-charge etc will no longer be available for media inspection starting from 30 March.” Nevertheless, the information on the charge sheets have not been open to public inspection, only reporters have the right to access, while court reporters always comply to privacy protection requirements, and there is no evidence showing the existing practice “damages the proper execution of judicial work”.
In response to enquiries, the Judiciary stated that “appropriate arrangements will continue to be implemented to ensure that the judiciary is open and transparent, so as to facilitate news reporting.” It is clear that the original arrangement to allow media access to charge sheets is intended to facilitate journalistic work. We express our disappointment over the failure of Judiciary to conduct consultations or notify the media before implementing new arrangements. In addition, law enforcement officers hold public powers to investigate cases, they are not acting in their personal capacities. Information about the officer-in-charge should not be regarded as privacy data.
HKJA hopes that the Judiciary will conduct a review as soon as possible, reopen the above-mentioned information to the media, and continue to uphold the Judiciary’s long-standing commitment to maintaining an independent, transparent and effective judicial system to safeguard the rule of law and protect individual rights and freedoms.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
31 March 2021