A coroner's inquest into the murder- suicide of a Tin Shui Wai family of four last year has recommended sweeping changes to existing guidelines to combat domestic violence.
The inquest came more than a year after 31-year-old Kam Shuk-ying, and her six-year-old twins, Lee Yin-li and Lee Tsz-wan, were found dead in Tin Heng Estate in Tin Shui Wai in the New Territories. Her 45-year old husband, Lee Pak-sum, stabbed himself and died two weeks later.
Authorities later found that Kam had approached police for help and that no records were kept of her complaint. Her case was shuttled between social workers without records.
The International Social Services Center in Tin Shui Wai was ill-equipped to deal with the case, it was found.
The shocking murder led to Legislative Council panel meetings and calls for reform and new guidelines, issued last year, for social workers, law enforcement agents and volunteer workers.
In his inquest ruling, coroner Peter White ruled that Kam and her daughters had died "unlawful deaths" and that Lee had committed suicide.
White said the police should create standardized investigation procedures to provide a checklist to record new cases.
The police should also "have no authority" to downgrade cases before full investigations.
Nor should police be mediators in domestic conflicts, he said.
Full records should be kept by duty officers of every case reported, and officers working in districts like Tin Shui Wai, where high incidences of family abuse occur, should receive comprehensive training, White decreed.
He directed other critical suggestions to the Social Welfare Department.
Further study should be given to implementing the department's "zero- tolerance" policy, he said.
The public should also be made aware of domestic violence problems and frontline workers that deal with family abuse on a daily basis should get more training.
Police officers now refer cases to social welfare workers, who can use their discretion to guide victims to non- governmental organizations and crisis centers, if victims approve.
White's other recommendations included: social workers should provide pager numbers to clients in case of emergency; provide written records of all interviews and documents; a multi- disciplinary body should consider reclassifying cases; the department should monitor training for NGOs and make sure they are in line with its standards; and NGOs should have a system that allows for periodic review of all cases by senior staff members.
The inquest was attended by the social welfare constituency legislator Fernando Cheung and Kam's two sisters, Kam Sok-yeung and Kam Lok- man, as well as members of a grassroots women's organization, Kwan Fook, which is made up of female abuse victims.
Cheung and Kwan Fook have been vocal in their criticism of the department's "piecemeal" approach to family violence.
While Cheung did praise White's decision, he has taken the department to task in the past over its approach to family abuse.
In a social welfare panel meeting last November, Cheung said the zero- tolerance policy of the government was little more than a slogan because it had produced no significant documents or studies on the domestic violence situation in the territory.
He and other social welfare advocates have called repeatedly for a centralized body to coordinate investigations into the thousands of family abuse cases reported every year.
They have also called for more action to address social ills that lead to domestic violence, especially in the New Territories, where family abuse cases have proliferated in recent years.
The department responded after the hearing that it is already following some of the recommendations, saying that "some of the suggestions are in line with existing improvement measures, such as training for social workers."