New initiative allows personal protection orders to be made at three centres

SINGAPORE - Applying for a personal protection order used to mean going to the Family Justice Courts, registering on the ground floor, going up to see a counsellor, then back down for a magistrate's decision. To tighten the process, the authorities now allow such applications to also be made at three family violence specialist centres.

The applications can be made at the centres through a system called integrated Family Application Management System (iFams). iFams can also be used to apply for maintenance orders and their enforcements at three other centres.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon announced this new initiative on Friday morning (July 14) in his speech at the Family Justice Practice Forum while talking about the future of family law.

He said: "We believe that enabling them to (make these applications) within their community could alleviate the anxiety associated with engaging in litigation."

He also announced the new Family Protection Centre at the Family Justice Courts. This purpose-built area allows for those applying for personal protection orders to do so within that same space. Applicants will no longer have to move around the building.

"It will feature simplified application forms, risk assessment with a counsellor and facilities for affirmation of the supporting declarations before a judge. There will also be self-help kiosks for parties to file their applications and volunteers stationed on-site to provide support," he said.

There are also plans to extend iFams next year to mental capacity and deputy-ship processes.

In his speech, Chief Justice said that family lawyers today have a role in conflict management. "In other areas of litigation, conflict is necessary - often even helpful - to the process of getting to the issues. However, in family justice, we prioritise the welfare of the child as a core tenet. And because of this, the reduction of conflict becomes critical.

The family justice process starts when the family lawyer is approached by a potential client whose internal world and family life are falling apart. As the first port of call, the lawyer has a tremendous opportunity to influence the approach that the client will take to the dispute and in particular, his willingness to cooperate to reduce the conflict."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin also addressed the conference on Friday, saying that while divorcing parties are expected to transition out of the legal system once proceedings conclude, that is not the case in reality.

Mr Tan said: "The emotional and financial impact of marital breakdown and divorce will remain, as former spouses begin the process of unravelling their shared lives together... Where children are involved, parents will have to learn how to work together in a fluid and evolving parenting relationship.

"We need to remember that there is a real cost to families and especially children. There are often long-term detrimental effects. As lawyers, I believe you can all play a part in helping to advise and ameliorate the situation."