Judges will be required to escalate serious cases of hurt or harassment to the police, under a new law, even if the victims have not sought the police's help and are seeking only protection orders from the court.
This is part of the responsibilities of the new Protection from Harassment Court, which would be established as set out in the amended Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) that was passed in Parliament yesterday.
The new court, which will sit in the State Courts, is dedicated to dealing with all civil and criminal harassment matters and will be staffed by judges trained specially to deal with harassment.
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said it might not be sufficient to grant civil remedies, like protection orders, to victims of harassment, especially in egregious cases of harassment or hurt.
With the amendments, judges will have the duty to consider if a criminal investigation is required when they grant temporary protection orders, he added. "This will ensure the State can intervene to reduce the risk of further or greater hurt to the victim."
Other key changes to the Act include measures to ensure swifter and more effective help for victims, and harsher penalties for those who repeatedly harass their victims, intimate partners or the disabled.
The amendments to Poha give power to the people so that the man in the street can take back the truth, reclaim his dignity.
SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW EDWIN TONG, on the amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act to keep pace with changes in technology and in response to feedback.
The courts would also have more power to order third parties and publishers to stop publishing or disable access to false statements about entities or individuals, or issue corrections to rectify the falsehoods.
Where an order has been made to stop the publication of false statements, the same order will also apply to all substantially similar false statements.
"This ensures that publishers cannot game the system by simply amending the statement slightly, but such that it is still false," said Mr Tong.
This would also deal with situations where anonymous users use multiple online accounts to publish the false statement, he added.
The new measures were welcomed by lawyers like Mr Rajan Supramaniam. He said the move to impose a duty on judges to refer egregious cases of hurt and harassment to the police could help expedite criminal proceedings as victims may be hesitant to approach the police themselves.
"As a society, we should not let their sentiments stop them from reporting wrongdoings," said Mr Rajan, adding: "For their own interest, they must seek greater protection."
Mr Tong said the significant number of amendments to the five-year-old Poha is to keep pace with changes in technology and is in response to feedback like that from Pave, a family violence specialist centre.
The centre had highlighted the importance of giving greater protection to people abused by their intimate partners.
"The amendments to Poha give power to the people so that the man in the street can take back the truth, reclaim his dignity," he said.
Harassment Act changes include:
SWIFTER AND GREATER PROTECTION FOR VICTIMS
• Procedures for applying for protection orders will be streamlined.
• The court will aim to hear an application for an interim protection order within 72 hours of it being filed, and within 24 hours when violence is involved.
• Protection orders can be extended to protect people related to the victims, like their family members.
• Protection orders taken against harassing communication will, in effect, be against all other communication that is similar in substance to the original. This means a single order can protect the victim against different harassing statements that in substance are the same.
• Protection orders can be obtained against entities, like debt-collecting companies.
• Those who breach protection orders could also be arrested on the spot if hurt was caused or harassing conduct persists.
• Unrepentant offenders who repeatedly breach protection orders would face twice the maximum penalties, which include a fine and a jail term.
• Similarly, people who harass their intimate partners or the mentally or physically disabled would face double the maximum penalties.
• Doxxing, in which people publish identifiable information about their victims with the intent to cause harassment, is a new offence. Those found guilty could be fined and jailed.
• The court will be empowered to order uninvolved third parties, like newspapers, to publish corrections to rectify false statements about individuals or entities.