Protection from Harassment Court to be established on Jun 1 to make it easier, faster for victims to obtain relief
SINGAPORE: Singapore will establish the Protection from Harassment Court on Jun 1, which will allow for easier and faster processing of relief for harassment victims, according to a joint release issued by the Ministry of Law and the State Courts on Monday (May 31).
The new specialised court will hear all criminal and civil matters under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) and will adopt a simplified process for certain types of applications, including those for protection orders and orders relating to falsehoods.
Under the simplified track, a claimant can file a claim online and at lower cost through the State Courts' Community Justice and Tribunals System that is accessible 24/7.
This is as opposed to the current process, which requires travelling to filing bureaus to file an originating summons with a supporting affidavit in-person, said the authorities.
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The system also offers a pre-filing assessment for people to assess the validity of their claims.
Claims that can be made under the simplified track must involve only one claimant and no more than five respondents, be brought within two years from the date that the course of action is accrued, and not include a claim for damages above S$20,000.
Hearings will also be conducted more quickly under the new court, which will target to conduct hearings for expedited protection orders within 48 to 72 hours of the application.
This target is reduced to within 24 hours where there is a "risk of violence or actual violence", said the authorities.
The court will aim to hear protection orders within four weeks of the application.
Respondents can also initiate an "eNegotiation" process on the system to try and reach an amicable settlement with a claimant, said the authorities.
Cases in the Protection from Harassment Court may be transferred to other courts, and vice versa.
"This transfer mechanism recognises how harassment may occur against the backdrop of other ongoing proceedings, such as divorce proceedings," said the authorities.
From Jun 1, cases may be transferred between the Protection from Harassment Court and District Court or Magistrate's Court. Transfers with the Family Court will be operationalised at a later date.
Several changes to enhance protection for victims of harassment will also come into effect on Jun 1.
Firstly, victims will face fewer hurdles to obtain protection orders. If a respondent has been convicted of any POHA or hurt-related offence against the victim, the requirement to show that a POHA provision has been contravened – which is necessary before a protection order can be granted – will be "deemed satisfied".
"Victims will not have to relive their experience more than necessary, to obtain protection," said the authorities.
Secondly, judges granting expedited protection orders will be required to consider whether a criminal investigation is warranted, and if so, to refer cases to the police for investigation.
People who have breached protection orders or expedited protection orders can also be arrested in prescribed scenarios, such as where hurt is caused.
These changes are being introduced because in egregious cases of hurt or harassment, it may not be enough to grant the victim a civil remedy, said the authorities.
Thirdly, protection orders and expedited protection orders will be further extended to protect people related to the victim, as they may also be harassed by the same perpetrator.
It will also be made clear that domestic exclusion orders – which restrain the perpetrator from entering the victim's residence or parts of the residence – can be granted as part of a protection order.
This will ensure better protection for victims who may stay in the same residence as the harasser, said the authorities.
The establishment of the Protection from Harassment Court and the other amendments are provided for under the Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Bill 2019 passed by Parliament in May 2019.
Minister for Law K Shanmugam said at the time the changes to the law were a "crucial step".
"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," Mr Shanmugam had said.
"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."