New Bill to allow for emergency orders, more powers in family violence cases
Emergency orders can be issued at the scene by authorised protectors in high-risk cases.
SINGAPORE: A Bill was tabled in parliament on Tuesday (May 9) to give authorities more powers in cases of family violence, such as issuing emergency orders at the scene of a high-risk case.
The emergency order can be issued by the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team (DVERT) to perpetrators at the scene if there is a danger that the person will commit violence imminently, and the order is necessary for the victim's protection or personal safety.
Perpetrators can be arrested if they breach these emergency orders, which last 14 days.
The Women’s Charter (Family Violence and Other Matters) (Amendment) Bill had its first reading in parliament on Tuesday, tabled by Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling. The last time the Act was amended for matters related to family violence was in 2016.
The emergency order restrains the perpetrator from committing further violence against a family member. It also gives the victim time to apply for a personal protection order (PPO) or to get an expedited order.
An expedited order is issued by the court if it is satisfied that there is a danger of family violence being committed, while it decides on an individual's application for a PPO.
In addition, emergency orders, expedited orders and PPOs may include other provisions, on top of the existing provisions for domestic exclusion or counselling in PPOs.
One is a Stay Away provision that prohibits the perpetrator from being in the vicinity of the victim – for instance, in the area outside his or her home, or a place the victim frequents. There’s also a No Contact provision that prohibits the perpetrator from visiting or communicating with the victim.
The proposed changes strengthen the legislative framework to better protect victims of family violence and enhance rehabilitation and accountability of the perpetrators, said MSF.
The Bill comes after the Taskforce on Family Violence's recommendations were released in September 2021.
If passed in parliament, the changes will strengthen the government’s ability to intervene in family violence cases and empower victims to better protect themselves. The amendments also raise the penalties and bolster enforcement against breaches, said MSF.
MORE POWERS TO INTERVENE
The Bill provides for a range of additional powers to protectors, who are appointed or authorised by the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW), to act for the welfare of victims.
When victims of family violence refuse to apply for a PPO but are at risk of being harmed, protectors will be able to apply for one on their behalf.
Protectors will also be able to apply to the court for electronic monitoring of high-risk family violence perpetrators if there is reasonable suspicion that a PPO has been breached and the victim was harmed.
This is for a “small minority” of victims who may be unwilling to report breaches of a PPO, even if there is a high risk of harm, said MSF.
If all other measures are insufficient to protect the victim, protectors will be able to apply to the court to remove a victim from their home, if their personal safety is seriously threatened but they do not take steps to protect themselves.
The Bill also updates the definition of family violence to make clear that it covers physical, sexual, and emotional or psychological abuse.
REHABILITATION, ENFORCEMENT AND HARSHER PENALTIES
There are also proposed additional provisions in PPOs to strengthen the rehabilitation of perpetrators.
The Bill expands the scope of counselling provisions to include other programmes, treatments, and interventions, such as parenting programmes and caregiver training.
They can be sent for mandatory treatment if the court finds that the perpetrator has a treatable psychiatric condition that is likely to be a contributing factor to the family violence.
To hold perpetrators accountable, the Bill proposes to increase the penalties for breaches of family violence-related court orders to a maximum fine of S$10,000 (US$7,549), up from S$2,000, and/or a 12-month imprisonment term, up from 6 months.
To ensure that perpetrators take their rehabilitative provisions seriously, any breach of a counselling provision, or other treatment provisions can lead to a fine of up to S$2,000.
Younger victims will be able to apply for PPOs from 18, lowered from 21. This will align the provisions in the Women’s Charter with that of other legislation, such as the Protection from Harassment Act.
Victims’ identities will be protected. The Bill prohibits any publication or broadcast that identifies or is likely to identify the victim, for his/her privacy, safety and well-being, unless the DGSW’s approval and the victim's consent have been obtained.
To strengthen the recovery of women and girls admitted to places of safety – such as gazetted homes or shelters, or under the care of suitable people – the Bill empowers MSF to bring them for medical, dental, or psychological assessment or treatment where it is in the woman's or girl’s best interests to receive such assessment or treatment.
People who report family violence cases, protectors or other authorised people will be protected from civil and criminal liability, if he or she has acted in good faith and with reasonable care.
MSF said that the proposed changes take into account feedback from members of the public, leading social sector professionals, healthcare workers, lawyers, protection specialist centres, crisis shelters and family service centres.
The ministry investigated 2,254 new family violence-related cases in 2022, relatively similar to the number of new cases in 2021, when there were 2,346.
"Strong and stable families are the bedrock of our society," said MSF.
"For families that are facing or at risk of violence, it is important, once the protection and safety objective has been achieved, to help offenders rehabilitate and families to reconcile and heal relationships. This will help break the cycle of violence."
The legislative changes come after a series of other initiatives to implement the recommendations of the Taskforce on Family Violence.
These include the launch of an online channel for the 24-hour National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline in December 2022, and of the 24-hour DVERT team from April this year to respond jointly with the police to domestic violence cases with immediate safety concerns.
The Bill will have its second reading at the next available parliament sitting on or after Jul 3.