Daily Archives: June 11, 2014

Forced haircuts for inmates

Long Hair. Hans Mahncke

Before

Long Hair. Hans Mahncke

After

Today comes the news that Long Hair will remain in jail for the coming 26 days. It is a strange feature of the legal system that the very same judge who sent Long Hair down, Justice Pang, also gets to decide whether Long Hair has any grounds of appeal. Unsurprisingly, he decided that he did not.

While all this is going on, I am very glad that Martin Lee, Long Hair’s lawyer, is making the case against the forceful cutting of hair. Quite rightly, he says that since women inmates are not forced to cut their hair, male inmates shouldn’t either. This is exactly what Article 25 of the Basic Law is all about:

Article 25
All Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law.

In essence all the arguments about forced haircuts have already been argued before the courts in the United States, where it has been held that forced haircuts are unconstitutional. One of the prevailing arguments has been that if some inmates are allowed to keep their hair long due to religious beliefs, then, according to the principle of equality before the law (as expressed through non-discrimination), other inmates should equally not have to cut their hair. This case is even stronger in Hong Kong, given that there are no justifications at all, i.e. not even religious ones, for the male/female discrimination.

It is also interesting that the main argument in favour of forced haircuts made by United States authorities was that long hair can be used to smuggle items etc. Again, even if the Hong Kong courts accepted this argument, it would not in any way justify what the current practice.

Overall, I see no way the current practice can be upheld, should anyone judicially review it in the High Court. The outcome will either be that men are no longer subjected to forced haircuts or that women will in future be subjected to them too. Those are the only two options.

By the way, how many officers do they need to escort Long Hair?!?