A new law on contempt of court will give more teeth to court orders and provide more protection to vulnerable people, several MPs said yesterday.
The Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, which was passed yesterday, sets out the kind of behaviour that constitutes contempt of court when court orders are disobeyed. It also spells out the penalties for offenders, such as a maximum fine of up to $100,000, a jail term of up to three years, or both, in cases involving the higher courts.
In this way, the MPs said, the law will deter those who intend to intentionally disobey court orders, and also lend weight to the enforcement of such orders. This will benefit vulnerable Singaporeans, such as children and divorced single parents who are denied maintenance payments by their former spouses.
The MPs were speaking during the debate on the Bill.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said the law dovetails with other changes to the family justice system that have improved the enforcement of maintenance orders. He added that his ministry was looking into the related issue of how to better enforce civil orders.
Ms Rahayu Mazam (Jurong GRC) and Mr Edwin Tong (Marine Parade GRC) said the new law sends a signal to those who deliberately disobey court orders.
"I have had to... face many clients expressing their disappointment with the 'paper judgments' they received, which may be in their favour but did not improve the situation they were in," said Ms Rahayu, a family lawyer.
This creates a greater deterrent effect and sends a strong signal to recalcitrant judgment debtors... I have had to... face many clients expressing their disappointment with the 'paper judgments' they received, which may be in their favour but did not improve the situation they were in. "
MS RAHAYU MAZAM, an MP for Jurong GRC
Agreeing, Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) said that since 2009, the courts received 3,000 applications a year from divorcees for the enforcement of alimony payments.
Most of the applicants were women with custody of their children, and many of them do not have jobs or they earn a meagre income, she said.
"These families suffer in silence ... and their daily survival needs are in jeopardy," she added.
But while she supported the new law, she asked if there could be "more appropriate" forms of punishment.
She suggested that the courts be given the power to appoint an officer to oversee and distribute the defaulter's income, so that the aggrieved parties get paid.
Other MPs, like Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), welcomed the leeway the law gives to those who offend because they genuinely do not understand their obligations, such as people who are illiterate. The courts can choose to excuse such people, and their disobedience will not be ruled as contempt of court.