A LOOK AT SOME OF THE AMENDMENTS TO THE PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT (POHA) – PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT LAWYERS

HARASSMENT ACT SINGAPORE

A LOOK AT SOME OF THE AMENDMENTS TO THE PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT (POHA)

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AMENDMENTS TO THE PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT – Protection from Harassment Lawyers

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The Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA”) was enacted in 2014 and provides remedies for victims of harassment and false statement of facts.

On 7 May 2019, revisions to POHA were passed in Parliament. These changes aim to improve the protection afforded to victims of harassment and falsehoods, as well as to make the remedies under POHA more readily available and obtainable for such victims.

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The key amendments to the POHA are as follows:

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1)         Enhancing protection for victims of harassment

The amendments will strengthen the current regime in place to protect victims from future harassment. POHA presently allows victims of harassment to apply for a Protection Order (“PO”) and in addition, an Expedited Protection Order (“EPO”) to prohibit the harasser from conducting himself/herself in a certain manner in relation to the victim.

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Extension of EPOs

Moving forward, EPOs will be extended to remain in effect until the conclusion of the PO hearing. The current law states that the EPO shall cease to have effect on the 28th day after the date of the making of the EPO or on the first day of the hearing of the application for the PO, whichever date is earlier. Therefore, the amendments will give the victim more assurance that he/she will have the EPO in place until the substantive matter has been determined by the court.

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Stronger penalties for breaches of POs & EPOs

The changes to POHA will bring about more serious consequences for breaching a PO or EPO. If the harasser breaches a PO, the court may make community orders against him/her. In addition, under certain stipulated circumstances, breaches of POs and EPOs will be deemed to be arrestable offences. This includes the situation where hurt is caused or where there is continual harassment.

Repeated breaches of POs and EPOs will also lead to enhanced penalties for harassers. In the event of a subsequent breach, the penalty will be doubled to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both.

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2)         Enhancing protection for victims who are related persons, vulnerable persons or in intimate relationships

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Related persons

The changes to POHA will also extend the protection afforded by POs and EPOs to persons related to the victim, such as the victim’s family members or spouse. This should allay the victim’s fear that his/her family could be targeted by the harasser instead.

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Vulnerable persons or persons in intimate relationships

The amendments will strengthen the penalties for offences against vulnerable persons (i.e. those with physical and mental disabilities) and intimate partners (i.e. victims in an intimate partner relationship, whether married or dating). The maximum penalties for such offences committed against vulnerable persons and intimate partners will be doubled. For example, an offender convicted under Section 3 of POHA, which involves intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress, could be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 12 months. Causing fear or provocation of violence and unlawful stalking under Section 5 of the POHA will result in a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 24 months.

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3)         New offence: Doxxing

A new offence known as “doxxing” will be introduced in order to regulate undesirable online behaviour. Doxxing can be defined as the publication of personally identifiable information, such as contact details, photographs or details on a person’s family, so as to harass, threaten or provoke violence against the victim.

To be more specific, the amendments will prohibit the publication of personally identifiable information where there is:

  1. An intention to harass the victim;
  2. An intention or knowledge to put the victim in fear of violence; or
  3. An intention or knowledge to provoke the use of violence against the victim.

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4)         New orders that can be made for victims of undesirable online behaviour

The scope of orders that can be made to deal with falsehoods will be expanded. The current law only allows the courts to order the original publisher of the false statements and internet intermediaries to intervene. With the amendments to POHA, the courts will be able to make a variety of orders to offer better protection to victims of falsehoods. These include the following:

  1. Stop publication orders: To prevent the publication of false statements;
  2. Correction orders: To necessitate the issuance of a correction notice, which contains either a corrected statement or draws attention to the inaccuracy in the false statement;
  3. Disabling orders: To disable access to false statements that have been disseminated by an internet intermediary;
  4. Targeted correction orders: To require the circulation of a correction of the false statement to users of the internet intermediary’s platform; and
  5. General correction orders: To necessitate the respondent to publish a general correction notice within a specified time in a particular form and manner in Singapore.

In addition to the orders above, the courts will be able to make interim orders to control the rapid spread of false statements.

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5)         Inclusion of entities under POHA

Private entities will also be covered under the umbrella of POHA. Besides individuals, private entities will be entitled to seek recourse under POHA when falsehoods are made against them. This is especially pertinent as such entities are just as susceptible to being victims of falsehoods on any online platform and could be severely affected by the same.

At the same time, private entities will be liable for contraventions of POHA and will face the same penalties as individuals. This will ensure that more effort will be taken as a whole to prevent harassment-related behaviour.

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6)         Establishment of a Protection from Harassment Court

The last major amendment is the establishment of a Protection from Harassment Court (“PHC”), which will be a specialised Court within the State Courts. The PHC will oversee all civil and criminal matters under POHA and aims to provide victims with all-rounded effective relief.

To increase the effectiveness of POHA, the PHC will implement simplified procedures which have shorter timelines for certain types of applications. This includes applications for POs and EPOs and claims for damages of up to $20,000. Additionally, the PHC will not be bound by the rules of evidence in the conduct of civil proceedings. This is to ensure that such applications can be processed more easily and quickly.

Moving forward, the PHC will look to deal with EPO applications within 48 to 72 hours of the application being made. If a risk of violence or actual violence is identified, the PHC will seek to hear the application within an even shorter timeframe of 24 hours. In relation to the PO application, the PHC will aim to dispose the application within 4 weeks of it being filed.

To grant the victim better protection, the judge, when granting an EPO, may also decide if a criminal investigation is needed. If the judge determines that it is necessary, the case may be referred to the police to ensure that further action will be taken against more severe cases of harassment or hurt.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, the amendments to POHA seem to have widened the safeguards offered to both victims of harassment and victims of falsehoods, including private entities and persons related to the victims. The changes should come as a huge relief to such victims, who can now be assured that there will be greater deterrents and harsher penalties in place to protect their interests.

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