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Review of Control of Obscene and Indecent Article Ordinance

The Government today (February 13) announced the way forward on the review of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap. 390) (COIAO).

A spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said, "Having considered public views collected in two rounds of public consultation, we propose to implement a number of statutory and administrative measures to improve the regulatory regime of the COIAO."

At present, the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT), a specialised tribunal of the Judiciary, discharges two different functions. It is responsible for giving a classification on a submitted article, which is an administrative function; and making a determination on whether an article is obscene or indecent upon referral by the court or magistrate concerned in civil or criminal proceedings, which is a judicial function.

The spokesman noted that the Judiciary had considered the present institutional set-up of the OAT highly unsatisfactory as the exercise of the administrative classification function by a judicial body would undermine the fundamental principle of judicial independence.

"To address the Judiciary's concern, we propose to amend the COIAO to abolish the administrative classification function of the OAT, leaving the OAT to deal only with judicial determination. The proposal is supported by stakeholders," he said.

While removing the administrative classification, the Government proposed to increase the maximum penalty under the COIAO to increase the deterrent effect against offenders.

The maximum penalty is proposed to be doubled for offences relating to obscene (from $1 million to $2 million) and indecent articles (from $400,000 and $800,000 to $800,000 and $1.6 million as appropriate). The maximum imprisonment term for subsequent convictions relating to indecent articles is also proposed to be increased from one to two years.

The existing adjudicator system of the OAT has been in operation for many years. Adjudicators are currently appointed by the Chief Justice upon application by individual members of the public.

"We suggest maintaining the current adjudicator system and implementing measures to meet public expectation for greater representativeness and transparency of the OAT," the spokesman said.

These measures include increasing the total number of adjudicators from about 500 to a maximum of 1 500 on an incremental basis, and increasing the minimum number of adjudicators at each OAT hearing from two to four through amending the COIAO.

In the proposed revamp of the COIAO, the Government also recommended establishing a liaison group with information technology professionals and the industry to enhance the existing co-regulatory approach for the control of indecent and obscene articles on the Internet.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau will brief the Legislative Council Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting on March 9.

Ends/Friday, February 13, 2015
Issued at HKT 18:32