LCQ20:Interdiction of Civil Servants
Regarding the interdiction of civil servants during disciplinary proceedings, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) in respect of those cases completed in the past five years, of the average and the longest duration between the time a decision was made to initiate disciplinary proceedings and the time the final decision was made with regard to the case; and the reasons for such duration;
(b) whether it will consider reviewing the process concerned to require that disciplinary proceedings must be completed within a reasonable span of time;
(c) whether it has assessed how the normal operation of the department concerned would be affected by the prolonged interdiction of its staff members or such prolonged interdiction resulting from their intentional protraction of the proceedings, during which they were paid half or full salary; and
(d) of the number of civil servants who have been dismissed or compulsorily retired after disciplinary proceedings, and those who have been reinstated upon judicial review, since January 2000, and the amount of compensation received by them?
An officer may be interdicted (i.e. suspended from duty) pending the outcome of criminal or disciplinary proceedings if it is considered not in the public interest for him to remain in office before he is cleared of the charge against him.
We do not resort to interdiction lightly. Factors that are taken into account include the nature and gravity of the criminal or disciplinary offence laid against the officer; possibility of the same offence recurring if the officer remains in office; availability of suitable posts for re-deploying the officer; and likely public perception. We interdict an officer only when re-deployment to alternative duties is not possible or inappropriate.
An interdicted officer will normally have 50 per cent of his salary withheld upon being charged with a criminal or disciplinary offence which may lead to his removal from the service. If he is subsequently convicted of an offence serious enough to warrant removal from the service, payment of his salary will be stopped in full.
Specifically on the four points raised in the question, I would like to respond as follows:
(a) In the time available for preparing this reply, we have only managed to come up with the required statistics for the past two years.
Action on 231 cases which involve interdiction was concluded within 2000/01 and 2001/02. The average time taken to complete the related disciplinary proceedings was about 9.5 months. For the case with the longest duration, it took about 20 months to complete the proceedings. The unusually lengthy period of time taken was due primarily to the complexity of the case, which in the event entailed lengthy arguments over the legal merits of the officer's representations; the consolidation of a large volume of documentary evidence; and the need to consider the testimonies of a large number of witnesses.
(b) At present, the rank-and-file staff and officers of certain ranks in the disciplined services are governed by disciplinary provisions prescribed in the relevant disciplined services legislation. Other members of the civil service are subject to disciplinary provisions in the Public Service (Administration) Order ("PS(A)O").
The complexity of disciplinary cases varies. It is not practicable to prescribe at the outset how long the disciplinary inquiry should take. In the interest of due process, the officer must be given a fair hearing and reasonable opportunities to defend his case. That said, the Administration is fully conscious of the public's expectations that the processing time should be kept within reasonable bounds.
For cases handled by the Secretariat on Civil Service Discipline (the Secretariat) which was set up in April 2000, as part of the Civil Service Reform, to process centrally disciplinary cases under the PS(A)O, the processing time has progressively improved following the implementation of streamlined procedures. In the past, cases requiring a hearing took on average 7 to 18 months to complete, depending on the circumstances of individual cases. Experience since the inception of the Secretariat shows that cases could be disposed of more expeditiously whilst preserving natural justice. The processing time for cases requiring a hearing has been shortened by more than 30 per cent or 3 months in some instances; and many cases could be completed within 5 to 15 months. The Secretariat has completed 112 cases in 2001/02, of which over 80 per cent could be disposed of within 12 months.
We will make sustained efforts to ensure that the time taken to complete disciplinary proceedings is kept within reasonable bounds. Further measures to streamline the procedures will be introduced in the light of experience.
(c) The effect that the interdiction of its staff members may have on a department's operations has been generally manageable. Where an officer had to be interdicted, alternative arrangements have been made to cover for the officer without any significant undue problems. Furthermore, the effect of interdiction should be seen in perspective. In the earlier part of this reply, I have stressed that an officer is interdicted only when re-deployment to other duties is not possible or inappropriate and where to do otherwise is manifestly not in the public interest. In most interdiction cases, the nature and gravity of the criminal or disciplinary offence laid against the officer is such that it would not be in the public interest for the officer to continue to discharge his official duties before he is cleared of the charge. As an illustration, of the 101 interdicted officers whose disciplinary cases were concluded in the 12 months ending March 2002, 71 (or over 70 per cent) have eventually been removed from the service.
(d) During the period from January 1, 2000 to March 31, 2002, 193 civil servants have been dismissed or compulsorily retired after disciplinary proceedings. Since January 2000, there has not been any case where the officer is reinstated upon judicial review.