Face Off: should the MTR repeal the HK$2,000 fine for loitering?

Face Off: should the MTR repeal the HK$2,000 fine for loitering?

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic. This week...

Anson Chan Pui-shing, 17, Carmel Secondary School

Hong Kong is well known for its legal system. We enjoy all kinds of freedom as long as we do not endanger others. As well, all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Both of these are core legal values.

However, the rule prohibiting loitering might contradict the rights above. Under the Crime Ordinance, a person who loiters in a public place or in the common parts of any building with intent to commit an offence, is committing an offence.

But basic human rights say we have the right to idle on the street and public areas as long as we do not endanger anyone or commit a crime.

But saying that people who loiter in a public place may be intending to commit a crime totally violates the presumption of innocence. No one should be considered guilty until their crimes are proven. We cannot accuse those loitering of intending to commit a crime as we do not have evidence. This is unfair to them.

Even though there may be a need to have such rule, it would be quite difficult to enforce it. Cases involving loitering are extremely debatable. For example, police say a man walking around on the street is loitering. He claims that he has forgotten his keys, and is passing time as he waits for his family to open the door. Should he be charged?

Being so indistinct, the rule prohibiting loitering should be repealed.

How big is too big on the MTR?

Rai Arlin L, 18, University of Hong Kong

Some people find it bizarre that loitering is illegal in many countries, and people are fined or imprisoned for it. But whether we like it or not, we do get suspicious of people who are just hanging around in a place for a long period of time.

In the Hong Kong MTR, loitering refers to standing in public areas and doing nothing, though some variants of law are more specific by stating “with criminal offence”.

So why should loitering be illegal? Because it is often a preceding offence to a number of disruptive behaviours, which are sometimes criminal offences, such as catcalling , drug dealing, prostitution, robbery planning, and more, or harassing people by obstructing the pathways. All these offences lower public satisfaction by sparking paranoia or by causing a nuisance. An anti-loitering law simply clears up and grey areas, and leaves no room for the anyone to promote or prompt these offences or disruptive behaviours.

Although some might call it a convenience law that gives the enforcer the power to remove anyone from the premises who are hanging about, in the case of the MTR, there are good reasons for doing it. Thousands of people travel in the MTR where space is limited – especially during rush hours – making it a hassle for the riders if there are groups loitering.

It’s also a place where law enforcers are rare, making it the perfect place to do some illegal business despite the number of CCTV cameras. If a law can prevent or minimise the chance for such things to happen, why not use it?

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Should the MTR repeal the HK$2,000 fine for loitering?


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