SINGAPORE: Victims of abuse by their close partners and who face possible violence might soon be able to get an expedited protection order within 24 hours, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Feb 21).
This is among the proposed changes to the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), which include a new court to hear victims' cases and simplified forms and processes when victims apply for a protection order.
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Speaking at family violence specialist centre PAVE’s 20th anniversary on Thursday, Mr Shanmugan called the changes to the law a “crucial step”.
“No one should undergo such violence ... certainly not such violence at the hands of a person they trust," said Mr Shanmugam.
While there are existing measures in place to help intimate partner abuse victims, the changes would address some of the issues unmarried victims face, such as the waiting time for a protection order under POHA.
“The actual process of trying to get a protection order ... took some time, it was not as easy as getting one under the Women’s Charter," said Mr Shanmugam.
These issues were raised by PAVE during Mr Shanmugam's visit to their centre last August.
Under the proposed amendments, an expedited protection order could be heard and granted within 48 to 72 hours. When victims face a risk of violence or actual violence, the court could hear and grant the order within 24 hours.
The forms and processes for those wishing to make applications will also be simplified, said Mr Shanmugam.
The court will generally try to hear a protection order application within four weeks from the time an application is filed. The expedited protection order will remain in place until the protection order is granted or dismissed by the court.
A victim of intimate partner violence will also be able to go before a new court, the Protection from Harassment Court.
This court will hear POHA civil and criminal matters, ensuring victims do not have to shuffle between civil and criminal courts.
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Changes could also be made to ensure it will be easier for the police, without requiring a warrant, to arrest those who breach a protection order. Penalties for subsequent breaches will also be doubled.
Protection orders will also be extended to protect people related to the victim, such as family members like children, added Mr Shanmugam.
These changes come on top of proposed amendments to the Penal Code, which could enhance maximum penalties against those who commit violence against a victim who is in an intimate or close relationship to them.
The second reading of the Criminal Law Reform Bill, which aims to introduce these amendments to the Penal Code, is expected to take place in May.
“The message is clear: it is unacceptable for perpetrators, the penalties are increased, toughened, the legal framework is even stricter, so even if it’s a civil order, protection order, if you breach it, the police will come after you. It’s an absolute no-no, not acceptable,” said Mr Shanmugam.
"For the victims, it's both that the law will protect you ... but also that we have to increase awareness, we have to make them understand that they don't need to be in such relationships, that they can walk out, that there is a system that will protect them."