HK may prosecute those who turn blind eye to abuse

The Law Reform Commission on Friday proposed making bystanders criminally liable if they do nothing to protect children, the elderly or people with disabilities from serious harm or death.

The commission said the move would deal with the problem of “which of you did it” cases, where it can’t be proven who out of a number of accused parties is responsible for a crime and therefore all of them go free.

A sub-committee launched a public consultation exercise on the issue in 2019 and has now put forward its recommendations, including that bystanders who take no action should face up to 15 years in prison if a victim suffers serious harm, and 20 years if a victim dies.

Amanda Whitfort, who chaired the panel, said the law should cover everyone who has a duty of care to a victim, including members of the same household, relatives, domestic helpers, social workers, care home workers, healthcare workers, teachers and police officers.

Such people would be expected to take “reasonable steps” to protect a victim if they were aware that abuse was taking place, she said.

“This is simply a matter of saying that if we can’t find the perpetrator, the one who actually inflicted the blow, we would now be able to also prosecute those who knew about it, stood by and did nothing,” Whitfort said.

As an example, she said foreign domestic helpers should do something if they notice suspicious bruises on children they take care of.

“Say perhaps they wash the child and they see the constant bruising on the child, then they have an obligation under this law to take steps to try to avert that risk,” she said.

“What kind of steps? Perhaps make an anonymous phone call to Social Welfare Department, perhaps speak to another member of the family who is a safe member of the family and likely to intervene, perhaps make an anonymous call to the police.”