Expert Insights

Expert Insights

70-Year-Old husband strikes wife with hammer for leaving him

In the case of HKSAR v Ng Tung Mo [2021] HKEC 2491, a 70-year-old husband punched his 48-year-old wife’s chest, then struck her head five to six times with a hammer, due to his suspicions that she was “leaving him”.

With couples spending more time together indoors in light of the pandemic, the spike in divorce rates has been a common theme. Unfortunately, one topic that is equally as worrying, but has been swept under the carpet and barely acknowledged, is the significant rise of domestic abuse cases. In the first nine months of 2021 alone, 2074 cases of domestic violence towards a spouse / cohabitant was reported1. Of course, the number of unreported cases is unknown.

There is no statutory definition for what constitutes domestic violence in Hong Kong. In practice, it refers to abusive behaviour by one person to another in a domestic context. This includes physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, as well as coercive control tactics, or neglect towards someone who cannot look after themselves. There have been cases where intolerable jealousy on the part of the aggressor, or persistent attempts at reconciliation, have also been considered as a form of molestation.

Victims include spouses, former spouses, cohabitants (including same-sex partners), former cohabitants, children and some other relatives. Although victims are mostly women or children, there has been a rise of cases involving men, with 392 reported cases in 20202. Often, victims feel ashamed to speak up and believe that nothing will change even if the authorities are involved. This is particularly the case in Hong Kong, as it is part of Chinese culture to not want to “lose face”. Consequently, one is left feeling as if they are unable to leave their home, until matters have reached something close to a life-or-death situation. Many people can even fail to recognise they are a victim at all.

In a family law context, applications for injunctive relief under the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance (Cap. 189) (the “DCRVO”) are possible, by seeking for the following orders:

(1) a non-molestation order preventing the use or threat of violence by the respondent or their servants or agents;

(2) an ouster order (or exclusion order) to urgently remove the respondent from or to prevent them from returning to the common residence;

(3) a restraining order preventing the respondent from disposing of the common residence or other family assets; and

(4) a restraining order in relation to children, preventing the removal of children from the jurisdiction and/or ordering their return.

In reviewing such applications, the Court will consider the following factors:

(1) the conduct of the parties, both in relation to each other and otherwise;

(2) who has the legal or beneficial interest in the common residence;

(3) the impact of the injunction on the relationship between the applicant, the respondent and their other family members who reside with them;

(4) the respective needs and financial resources of the applicant and the respondent; and

(5) all the circumstances of the case.

Applications can be made on an urgent basis and/or without giving notice to the respondent in cases of real danger and emergency. Upon the granting of an injunction order, a breach of the terms is considered contempt of court and the respondent may be imprisoned. If there has been a history of physical harm, the applicant may also apply for an authorisation of arrest to be attached to the injunction. This will allow a police officer to arrest, without a warrant, an aggressor they reasonably suspect to be in breach of the injunction.

As with all forms of litigation, not all applications will be successful. In this regard, it is advised that so far as possible, a victim preserves a paper trail consisting of police reports, medical reports, witness statements, or photographs of any abuse towards them, or their surroundings. This will provide the court with a better understanding of the history of the relationship and maximise the success of an application.

It is fortunate that despite her injuries, the wife in Ng Tung Mo, survived and eventually filed for divorce against the husband, who was sentenced to four years imprisonment. Sadly, in many cases the outcome is very different. Seeking the advice of a family lawyer at an early stage (and the police if necessary) is always advisable.



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