Hong Kong protests: woman injured during intense clashes loses legal fight over police access of her medical records

Brian Wong
·3-min read

A woman who suffered a serious eye injury during an anti-government protest in 2019 has lost an appeal to obtain copies of two search warrants Hong Kong police used to access her medical records.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday sided with the lower Court of First Instance in finding the woman, anonymised as K, did not have a free-standing right to view the warrants, which she claimed police used to access her personal data without her consent.

The appellate court further held that police were entitled to obtain K’s personal information via the warrants for the purpose of a criminal inquiry and there was “no basis” for her to assume she was not a person being investigated.

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Lawyers for K, who was granted anonymity for fear of having her details shared online, had accused police of depriving her of her rights to privacy and access to court by way of failure to disclose the warrants on demand.

The legal bid was heard at the Court of Appeal in Admiralty. Photo: Warton Li
The legal bid was heard at the Court of Appeal in Admiralty. Photo: Warton Li

They argued the warrants – which contained information including the name of the magistrate who endorsed them, the police’s rationale for the applications and the scope of the search – were required before they could move forward with further litigation, including a direct challenge against the lawfulness of the police seizure.

But Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor, chief justice of the High Court, said such a move was unnecessary.

“Even without the search warrant, she could have commenced legal proceedings to protect her privacy rights in the medical records, such as applying to the magistrate to set aside the search warrant, applying for judicial review or commencing a private action for injunction. Put bluntly, she simply does not need the search warrant at all,” he wrote in Wednesday’s 33-page judgment.

Johnson Lam Man-hon, vice-president of the appellate court, suggested K’s true purpose was to learn about the police investigation into her role in the demonstration.

The contents of a warrant could reveal more information about the investigation process

Johnson Lam Man-hon, appellate court vice-president

Lam observed that while K might be able to obtain copies of the warrants by alternative means – for instance, by launching a judicial review against their issuance – she would be ordered to use the copies only for the purpose of legal proceedings, and parts of the warrants might be redacted to preserve the integrity of ongoing criminal investigations.

However, had K been successful in the present application, she would be free to use the information acquired as she wished.

“Plainly, the contents of a warrant could reveal more information about the investigation process and the persons under investigation. There was indeed no basis … to assume that K was not a person subject to investigation,” Lam said.

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K became an icon of the anti-government movement after she was hit in the eye during intense clashes between protesters and police in Tsim Sha Tsui on August 11, 2019. It remains unclear whether she was hit by a beanbag round fired by police or by a projectile from a protester’s catapult.

Police had been granted warrants to access K’s medical report from Queen Elizabeth Hospital after they said the woman and her family had not responded to inquiries.

In the appeal hearing in February, a lawyer for the force revealed officers had unsealed K’s medical records and reviewed their content after she lost her initial case in December 2019.

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