Written Question: Regulating possession of offensive or lethal weapons or articles

Question:

Under sections 17C and 33 of the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245), any person who, while present at any public meeting or on the occasion of any public possession, or in any public place, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, has with him any offensive weapon shall be guilty of an offence. In recent months, some members of the public were assaulted with knives on the street for no reason, and a convenience store owner was even stabbed to death by a thief with a knife. Besides, two protesters taking part in a demonstration were recently prosecuted for possession of offensive weapons of chili oil liquid containing capsaicin, dihydrocapsaicin and isopropyl alcohol. The aforesaid incidents have aroused public concerns about personal safety in public places. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) (i) of the number of cases involving possession of offensive weapons in public places handled by the Police, broken down by type of offensive weapons (e.g. arms, sharps, corrosive fluid, etc.), and (ii) among such cases, the number of cases resulting in injuries or deaths, and the total casualties, in the past three years; whether it has assessed if such kind of crimes has showed a worsening trend; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the affirmative, of the details;

(2) whether the Police have devised uniform criteria for defining “offensive weapon” for frontline police officers’ reference in determining whether the articles seized from suspected persons are offensive weapons;

(3) whether the authorities will put in place special measures to combat crimes involving possession of offensive weapons, e.g. deploying more police officers to perform patrol duties and conduct searches on the belongings of suspected persons in districts with relatively poor law and order situation, low pedestrian flow and a relatively large number of round-the-clock shops; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(4) whether it has considered adopting special measures for enhancing the protection for the personal safety of pedestrians on streets with low pedestrian flow and that of staff of round-the-clock shops, e.g. installing sufficient number of closed-circuit television cameras on such streets, as well as encouraging all round-the-clock shops to install alarm systems connected to police stations; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

The Government’s reply to the Hon Chan Kin-por’s question is as follows:

(1) To safeguard public safety, a number of ordinances are in place in Hong Kong to regulate the possession of offensive or lethal weapons or articles.

Amongst such legislation, sections 17C and 33 of the Public Order Ordinance (Cap 245) stipulate that any person who, while present at any public meeting or on the occasion of any public procession, or while present in any public place, has with him any offensive weapon, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine at level two (i.e. $5,000) and to imprisonment for two years under section 17C or to imprisonment for not more than three years under section 33. It is also provided under section 17 of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228) that any person who has in his possession any wrist restraint or other instrument or article manufactured for the purpose of physically restraining a person, any handcuffs or thumbcuffs, any offensive weapon, or any crowbar, picklock, skeleton-key or other instrument fit for unlawful purposes, with intent to use the same for any unlawful purpose, shall be liable to a fine of $5,000 or to imprisonment for two years.

With regard to possession of offensive weapons in public place, the Police may initiate arrest and prosecution in accordance with the above three provisions. There were 433, 448 and 490 cases relating to such provisions in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. The Police do not maintain statistical breakdowns regarding the type of offensive weapons, whether injuries or deaths are involved in the cases and the casualties. In addition, the Police will determine the appropriate charges to be laid taking into account the specific circumstances of each case. If the offender is suspected of having committed other offences such as wounding, homicide or robbery, etc. while possessing offensive weapons, the Police may initiate arrest and prosecution for the other offences.

In addition to the above legislation, other ordinances including the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance (Cap 238), the Offences Against the Person Ordinance (Cap 212) and the Crimes Ordinance (Cap 200) etc. have provided for regulation or prohibition over the possession of offensive or lethal weapons or articles, such as arms, corrosive fluid and explosive substance etc.

(2) Under section 2 of the Public Order Ordinance, offensive weapon means “any article made, or adapted for use, or suitable, for causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it in his possession or under his control for such use by him or by some other person”. The Police will judge whether an article is an offensive weapon based on the definition stated in relevant ordinances as well as the actual situation. If necessary, the Police will seek advice from the Department of Justice with regard to the specific circumstances of the case before initiating prosecution.

(3) and (4) The Police are very concerned about criminal offences involving offensive weapons. To protect the safety of the lives and property of the public, “combating violent crimes” and “enhancing public safety” have been identified as Commissioner of Police’s Operational Priorities 2016. Strong frontline police presence will be maintained in order to deter violent crimes. Each police district will devise action plans in accordance with its crime trends and individual circumstances. For instance, additional police officers will be deployed to conduct high-profile anti-crime patrols at high-risk locations. The Police will apprehend any person who is reasonably suspected of having committed an offence. Furthermore, the Police will strengthen crime prevention publicity, including briefing retail traders and other shop operators on ways to enhance security systems, such as installation of closed-circuit television systems and intruder alarms linked to security companies, and providing them with security awareness training that meets their needs etc.

The Police will continue to make all efforts in combating violent crimes, possession of offensive weapons and other crimes, and will definitely not tolerate any illegal act by law-breakers.

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