Tort – trespass to person – whether body/strip searches conducted on detainee at police station constituted trespass to person
P was from Pakistan and had entered Hong Kong illegally on 4 October 2006. On the same day, he was arrested and detained by the police for illegal entry. P was initially detained at various police stations from 4 October 2006 until his release on 18 January 2007 on P’s own recognizance (“First Detention Period”).
On 4 September 2008, P was rearrested by the police for the suspected offence of breaching his condition of stay by taking up employment. He was released on 9January 2009 upon the granting of court bail (“Second Detention Period”); P was unconditionally discharged when the prosecution offered no evidence against him on 27 July 2010.
P originally claimed damages, including aggravated and exemplary damages in respect of his detention during the First and Second Detention Periods. Ten days before the commencement of the trial, D conceded that P was unlawfully detained during the First Detention Period. The concession was apparently made following the Court of Final Appeal’s decision in Ghulam Rbani v Secretary for Justice (2014) 17 HKCFAR 138. As a result, judgment on liability during the First Detention Period was entered against D. P subsequently decided not to pursue at trial, his claim for false imprisonment in respect of the Second Detention Period.
At trial, the Judge had to address the conditions of P’s detention, the use of handcuffs, body/ strip searches solely in respect of the First Detention Period, as well as calculate the quantum of P’s non-pecuniary damages.
Held, entering judgment against D in the total sum of HK$210,000 in damages ($100,000 for unlawful detention, HK$30,000 for unlawful handcuffing and HK$80,000 for unlawful strip searches), that:
- The repeated strip searches done on P amounted to degrading and inhumane treatments. The repeated taking off of his clothes in front of others was not only undignified, it was akin to a mental torture on P. It was unnecessary for the officers to touch P with their hands during the searches once all his clothing was removed. To ask P and his fellow detainees to do any poses like sitting down and standing up or leaning against the table, would only aggravate the sense of humiliation the detainees must feel during such searches.