Five international experts were earlier solicited by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) for their assistance in the review of the police's action and work on the anti-amendment movement. Though the interim report has yet to be published, it has emerged that the panel of international experts has left the IPCC. The IPCC has stressed that the panel did not resign, but the public perceives the news differently.
The anti-amendment storm has gone on for half a year, and one of the centres of controversy has been the police's law-enforcement actions. There has been an endless string of accusations of ''police brutality''. In early September chief executive Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the amendment bill and that the IPCC would be tasked with reviewing the police's law enforcement actions taken since June. Not only were new members added to the IPCC, but a panel of international experts was also lined up to review the police's work and the procedures they adopted concerning large-scale public activities. The panel was also expected to provide its professional opinion for the IPCC. The five international experts commissioned by the IPCC have impressive backgrounds. One of them is Sir Denis O'Connor, the former UK chief inspector of constabulary whose experience includes the handling of the 2011 riots in the UK.
The IPCC has more than once said that the Independent Police Complaints Council Ordinance does not grant it the authority to investigate, and that it has to act within its terms of reference. However, it is obvious that the panel of international experts believes that it will be difficult to continue its work unless the structural limits on the IPCC's term of reference and scope of power are resolved. The panel says that it will continue to support the IPCC if its authority is expanded sufficiently and it provides the panel with the first draft of the interim report. This position can be interpreted in reverse: the panel seems to think that an important prerequisite for their continued cooperation is the enhancement of the IPCC's power. The government must face the reality, i.e. the IPCC's lack of independence and power, squarely rather than turn a blind eye to it.
In terms of authority and the system in which it is placed, the IPCC is apparently inadequate compared with the police watchdogs of advanced nations. Take the UK and Canada. In these two countries, the police watchdogs have independent investigative power. In the UK, the case must be referred to the watchdog for investigation if the police's actions result in serious injuries or deaths. Canada's police watchdog even has the power to handle complaints directly and collect evidence. The IPCC in Hong Kong, in contrast, has neither the power of independent investigation nor the power to summon witnesses. It cannot handle the public's complaints directly. All the matters have to be handled by the Complaints and Internal Investigations Branch (C&IIB) of the police, which will then submit investigative reports to the IPCC concerning those ''reportable complaints''. The IPCC is only responsible for reviewing, observing and re-reviewing the police's handling and investigation of ''reportable'' complaints. Such a mechanism for handling complaints is in nature ''police officers investigating themselves''. If the police do not cooperate actively and provide the information, it will be difficult for the IPCC to follow up on complaints effectively.
We believe that the authorities should take a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, they should set up an independent commission of inquiry to respond to controversies that society is most concerned about so as to piece together the facts and promote social reconciliation. On the other hand, they should reform the mechanism for monitoring the police force by studying more sophisticated practices other regions have adopted. The IPCC's authority should be strengthened considerably to restore public trust.