SINGAPORE: More than 500 applications for Protection Orders were made under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) over about four years, Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said in the Committee of Supply debate on Monday (Mar 4).
Of these, 213 Protection Orders and 193 Expedited Protection Orders were granted, including applications by victims of workplace harassment. The applications were made from Nov 15, 2014 when the Act came into effect, until Dec 31 last year.
A Protection Order is a court order issued against a harasser to stop harassing or stalking the victim and remove any publication that is the cause of harassment, if it applies. An Expedited Protection Order is issued when urgent intervention is required due to the circumstances.
Close to 100 applications for Protection Orders were referred to the State Courts Centre for Dispute Resolution. Of those that that completed mediation, 61 per cent reached a settlement leading to in some cases, a withdrawal of the application, Mr Tong said.
He also said that 51 Magistrate’s Complaints have been filed for alleged breaches of Protection Orders or Expedited Protection Orders. In total, more than 3,000 Magistrate’s Complaints have been filed for alleged offences under the POHA, he said.
About three in 10 Magistrate Complaints, inclusive of those related to POHA, underwent mediation, of which about 80 per cent of cases reached a settlement, he added.
A Magistrate's Complaint can be filed by any person who wishes to seek redress for an offence that they believe has been committed against them.
In addition, more than 1,700 criminal cases with POHA charges have also been commenced by the Attorney-General’s Chambers, he said.
Over the same period, 12 civil proceedings for statutory damages have been brought while 11 applications for non-publication orders have been filed.
During the debate, West Coast GRC MP Patrick Tay suggested tracking the types of cases filed. Mr Tong said his ministry will work with the State Courts to explore this.
INCREASE IN LEGAL ASSISTANCE
Mr Tong also said that changes to the Legal Aid and Advice Act will be implemented in the second half of this year. The changes aim to simplify the means test, provide greater flexibility to grant aid and improve the administration of legal aid.
Giving an update on criminal legal aid, he said the number of accused persons assisted annually has risen after the Government introduced direct funding in 2015.
Lawyers under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme - which provides assistance to those who cannot afford a lawyer - assisted in almost 1,600 cases in 2018, almost four times the number of cases before 2015, he said.
Mr Tong also said that his ministry is working with the Ministry of Health, GovTech and several other government agencies to develop a Moments of Life Digital Portal, to support Singaporeans as they deal with their estate management matters, or that of their loved ones, in the end-of-life journey.
“Features will include step-by-step guidance on making wills and settling post-death estate matters,” he said, adding that a beta version will be released by the end of 2019.