After 10 years of protracted court battles, the Plaintiff in Chun Sang Plastics Company Limited v Commissioner of Police & Secretary for Justice  HKCFI 661 was finally awarded damages for their loss of profits from the police, who was immensely criticized as having “high degree of ignorance and incompetence” with “simple ignorance of the law” (unlawful seizure of goods was the root cause).
After receiving complaints about alleged dishonored cheques, the police arbitrarily accused the Plaintiff, who turns out to be bona fide purchaser, to be handling stolen goods and thus seized the containers. The Plaintiff suffered serious loss of profit and business reputation as a result. The Court found against the police for their unlawful possession and detention.
Finding 1: Impulsive Judgement of Case
In this case, the police acted upon the mere assertions, at a stage where there was little to no evidence. While the complainants should be directed to claim through civil procedures, the police mistakenly identified the cause and incriminated the innocent Plaintiff.
Finding 2: Unjustified Detention of Containers
The police also ignored section 28(1) of the Theft Ordinance (Cap 210), which provides that seizure is only allowed with a warrant. It is trite that application for a warrant requires complete disclosure of all documentation regarding ownership of the containers (akin to full and frank disclosure in civil cases). Yet all the evidence was in favor of the Plaintiff. The complainants, on the other hand, repeatedly failed to assert their ownership. Therefore if the police had applied for a warrant they knew or ought to have known they would have failed. As such, it was inferred by the court that they chose not to take the right steps, leading to their misconceived attempt to backwards rationalize that they have inherent power from the Police Force Ordinance. The Court disagreed.
Finding 3: Over Self-Protection
Making matters worse, the police attempted to suggest that the Plaintiff was dividing the value of the containers amongst the complainants, excuse of which, as criticized by Judge Seagroatt, an act done only in hope of rationalizing self-inflicted complications snowballed by the police themselves. Further, the Department of Justice once gave conflicting advice to the police, instructing them to stop retaining the containers while keeping them. This paradox was again explained in the judgment as being a “defensive and protective element” that aided and abetted the police’s wrongdoing.
Finding 4: Police Found to be Utterly Irresponsible
In trying to save themselves from the troubled waters, it was observed by the Court that the police attempted to join the complainants’ claim, which led to the Plaintiff’s nightmare continuing notwithstanding a favorable judgment subsequently granted to them. In aiding the police’s misconduct, the Department of Justice ignored and breached the court order to release the containers. In Judge Seagroatt’s words, after putting the Plaintiff into hardship, it merely “sat back” with “arms folded metaphorically”.
Take Away Points
This case serves as a sharp warning especially for those in public office (and fiat acting for them):
- Always carefully study and follow the relevant statues and guidelines
- Impulse leads to compulsive acts. Begin to act only after obtaining necessary and unambiguous information.
- Act immediately with no delay. A lapse of time may void a cause of action. The inaction of the defendants in this case even gave rise to ignorance of a Court order.