Enhancements to the Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA”)
1 Apr 2019 Posted in Press releases
The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) tabled the Protection from Harassment Act (Amendment) Bill (the “Bill”) for First Reading in Parliament today.
POHA was enacted in 2014 to provide a range of criminal and civil remedies against harassment, and civil remedies for false statements of facts. POHA has been an important legislative tool in protecting victims of harassment by giving them effective redress.
Since POHA came into force on 15 November 2014, numerous individuals have benefited from the civil and criminal measures it provides. There have been more than 1,700 prosecutions and over 3,000 Magistrate’s Complaints filed. In addition, more than 500 people have stepped forward to make applications for Protection Orders.
MinLaw has received feedback from those who have relied on remedies under POHA that the court processes can be further streamlined and simplified. Additionally, new social trends, such as sharing people’s personal information so as to harass them online, and the viral spread of falsehoods to harm individuals, have emerged over the last few years.
The Bill seeks to further strengthen POHA in light of the feedback received and MinLaw’s ongoing policy review. Extensive consultations were conducted with stakeholders, including the Courts, practitioners, and voluntary welfare organisations (“VWOs”). The Bill will introduce amendments that seek to enhance protection for victims of harassment and falsehoods, and to make it faster and easier for victims to obtain remedies under POHA.
- Establishment of a specialist court
- The Bill will establish the Protection from Harassment Courts (“PHC”).
- The PHC will be a specialised Court with oversight over all criminal and civil matters under POHA. The aim is to provide a one-stop solution for victims to receive holistic and effective relief.
- A key feature of the PHC is that it will adopt simplified procedures with expedited timelines for certain types of applications, including claims for damages up to $20,000 as well as applications for Protection Orders (“POs”) and Expedited Protection Orders (“EPOs”).
- The PHC’s simplified procedures will allow claims, POs, and EPOs to be filed using a straightforward claim form (instead of requiring an Originating Summons as is the case today). Additionally, the PHC will not be bound by the rules of evidence in the conduct of civil proceedings.
- The PHC will aim to hear applications for EPOs within 48 to 72 hours of the application. Where there is a risk of violence or actual violence, the PHC will aim to hear the application within 24 hours. The PHC will also work towards disposing the PO application within 4 weeks of filing the application.
- Strengthening protection for victims of harassment and related persons
- The Bill will strengthen protection for victims of harassment and persons related to victims in three ways: (i) improving the PO and EPO regime; (ii) enhancing the penalties for offences against vulnerable persons and intimate partners; and (iii) clarifying that entities can be liable in proceedings for harassment-related behaviour.
- Improved PO and EPO regime
- MinLaw received consistent feedback that there is a need to strengthen the PO and EPO regime. Several stakeholders suggested that the PO and EPO regime should be amended to ensure parity with the Personal Protection Order regime under the Women’s Charter. The amendments will improve the PO and EPO regime under POHA in the following ways:
- Protection afforded by POs and EPOs will be enhanced. POs and EPOs will be extended to protect persons related to the victim, as these persons are often at risk of violence from the harasser as well. Further, under the Bill, EPOs will remain in effect until the PO hearing is concluded. Additionally, it will be clarified that domestic exclusion orders (i.e. orders restraining the respondent from entering the applicant’s residence or parts of the residence) can be granted as part of a PO. This will ensure better protection for victims who may reside in the same residence as the harasser.
- Applications for POs will be facilitated.For example, where a respondent has been convicted of a hurt-related offence, some of the conditions required for the grant of a PO will be deemed to be satisfied.
- Recourse for breaches of POs and EPOs will be strengthened.The Bill will strengthen the remedies available when a PO or EPO is breached (so as to deter such conduct early). Community orders can be made for breaches of POs. Additionally, breaches of POs and EPOs will be deemed arrestable offences in prescribed circumstances (e.g., where there is hurt or continued harassment).
- Further, enhanced penalties will be introduced for subsequent breaches of POs and EPOs. Currently, a breach of a PO or an EPO is punishable with a fine not exceeding $5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both. The amendments will increase the penalty to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.
- Enhancing penalties for offences against vulnerable persons and intimate persons
- The Bill will introduce enhanced penalties in areas where greater deterrence is warranted to deal with harassment-related conduct.
- First, the proposed amendments will enhance existing penalties for offences against vulnerable persons (i.e. persons with mental and physical disabilities). These penalties will match those which have been introduced, recently, by the Criminal Law Reform Bill.
- Second, enhanced penalties are proposed to deal with offences against victims in an intimate partner relationship (whether dating or married). Victims of harassment by intimate partners are often vulnerable and require greater protection. The VWOs we consulted shared numerous cases of abusive behaviour by intimate partners. The Bill seeks to better protect these victims through enhanced penalties.
- The maximum penalties for offences against vulnerable persons and intimate partners will be doubled as follows:
|Offence||Current Penalties||Enhanced Penalties|
|Section 3: Intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress||Up to $5,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 6 months||Up to $10,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 12 months|
|Section 4: Harassment, alarm or distress||Up to $5,000 fine||Up to $10,000 fine|
|Section 5: Fear or provocation of violence||Up to $5,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 12 months||Up to $10,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 24 months|
|Section 7: Unlawful stalking|
|Section 10: Contravention of POs and EPOs||Up to $5,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 6 months||Up to $10,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 12 months|
- Clarifying that entities can be liable in proceedings for harassment-related behaviour
- MinLaw received feedback about institutionalised harassment against victims (e.g., by debt-collectors). Some stakeholders expressed their view that case law on whether entities could be perpetrators of offences under POHA was unclear. The amendments will clarify that entities can indeed be liable in proceedings for harassment-related behaviour.
- Enhance protection for victims of falsehoods and other undesirable online behaviour
- Protection for victims of falsehoods and other undesirable online behaviour will be enhanced in three ways.
- First, a new offence of “doxxing” will be introduced. Doxxing involves the publication of personally identifiable information (e.g. photographs, contact numbers, or employment details) in order to harass, threaten or facilitate violence against the victim. In recent years, there has been an increasing trend of an individual’s personal information being consolidated and published online with a view to harassing the said individual. Often, this arises in the context of online “vigilantism”. The amendments will prohibit the publication of such personal information where it is done with an intention to harass the victim.
- Second, the amendments will clarify that private entities may also obtain remedies under POHA where they are victims of falsehoods. In an infinite online landscape, entities are just as vulnerable as individuals where falsehoods are concerned. A corporate entity’s reputation can be ruined in days if falsehoods about the entity are allowed to go unchecked. The Bill provides recourse to entities when they are the victims of falsehoods.
- Third, the scope of orders which can be made in relation to falsehoods will also be expanded. The courts will be empowered to make a range of orders to better protect victims of falsehoods. As false statements can go viral extremely quickly, the courts will be empowered to make relevant interim orders to provide victims with urgent relief.
MINISTRY OF LAW
1 April 2019
Annex A: What are the key changes to POHA (0.03MB)
Annex B: Greater protection for victims (0.02MB)
Annex C: The Protection from Harassment Court - Processes and General Timelines (0.02MB)
Annex D: What is Doxxing (0.1MB)
Annex E: Examples of Doxxing (0.7MB)
Last updated on 02 Apr 2019