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Law Wan-Tung's Early Release

After 8 months of abuse, Erwiana was left struggling to walk and without wages. In 2015, her employer Law Wan-Tung was handed a six-year prison sentence for 18 different charges, several of which for grievous bodily harm.[1] However, Law has recently been released after just three years imprisonment.[2] This post will discuss the issues of discrimination and deterrence that arise from this case.


Discrimination?

Three aspects of this case warrant highlighting such a controversial issue. Firstly, it has been suggested that without the 5000-person march on Wan Chai the case would have never gone to court; arguably, there is a systemic reluctance for processing claims made by domestic workers. Secondly, the focus of the case was on the victim's credibility.[3] It must be asked, if the victim had been a well-educated local resident, would the same weight have been given to such a defence? Thirdly, would the light sentencing and early release have occurred had it been the employee grievously harming the employer over 8 months?


Deterrence

Under the Offences against the Person Ordinance, a charge under s.19 can result in 3 years imprisonment and a charge under s.17 can result in life.[4] Thus, 6 years for two s.19 charges and a s.17 charge among 15 others is a very light sentence given the brutality of her crimes and lack of remorse. In Hong Kong, good behaviour can reduce a sentence by one-third. But, even with good behavior, Law should have served at least 4 years. However, she has been released having served just over 3 years and an official reason is yet to be reported (as of 24/11/2018). This early release is particularly unjust given Law is yet to pay the compensation of over $800,000 and has been accused of hiding assets.[5] There is no doubt Erwiana’s case was a monumental step forward. However, given that Law is yet to pay compensation and served only half her sentence, it is regrettable that this case does not provide a better deterrent for future abuse.


Moving Forward

To conclude, it is not the intention to take away from the successes of the Erwiana case. However, questions of discrimination do arise, and the consequences faced by Law do not serve as a significant deterrent. Once the numerous calls for explanation are answered these issues can be further analysed.[6]

[1] HKSAR v Law Wan Tung [2015] HKEC 242


[2] https://www.hongkongfp.com/2018/11/22/salt-wound-ngos-decry-early-release-employer-jailed-torturing-domestic-worker-erwiana


[3]HKSAR v Law Wan Tung [2015] HKEC 242, para 103


[4] Cap. 212 Offences against the Person Ordinance


[5] https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2120080/hong-kong-employer-who-tortured-domestic-worker-erwiana


[6] https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/2174567/beaten-indonesian-domestic-worker-erwiana

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