Due consideration given to human rights in devising new regulation on face covering

The Chief Executive in Council decided to invoke the power under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance and make a new regulation of Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation to effectively reduce act of violence and facilitate police investigation and administration of justice. We hope that it would help restore law and order and public peace in the society.

Prohibiting persons from using face covering would facilitate police investigation and administration of justice and would as well deter them from acting in an unlawful manner on the basis that they may act with impunity by concealing their identity. The new regulation only prohibits people from using any face covering to prevent identification at unlawful assemblies, unauthorised assemblies, public meetings or public processions in respect of which a letter of no objection has been issued. Police officers are also empowered to require a person to remove facial covering in a public place to verify his identity.

In devising the new regulation, the Government has given due consideration to the human rights guarantees in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, including the rights on the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and privacy. However, these rights are not absolute, and may be subject to restrictions that satisfy the proportionality test including whether a reasonable balance has been struck between the societal benefits of the encroachment and the inroads made into the constitutionally protected rights of the individual.

This measure would not deprive the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as people are still free to participate in lawful and peaceful public order events without face covering. If a member of the public in a public place is asked by police officers to remove the face covering to verify his identity, he may wear it again after the verification process is completed. Interference with a person’s rights is minimal, and in any event proportionate to the legitimate aim of protecting public safety and public order.

Other than the specified circumstances set out in the new regulation, people are generally free to wear face masks and the impact on their daily lives is limited.

The new regulation, which is a piece of subsidiary legislation, is made pursuant to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance and has to be laid on the table of the Legislative Council which may by resolution amend the regulation. Hence, there is no issue of the Legislative Council being circumvented.

The protests and confrontations have continued for almost four months. We hope that the new measure could help curb the spread of violence and restore social order. We also urge the understanding and support of the public in our work.

October 13, 2019