Parliament: Judges bound by duty to refer serious cases of hurt and harassment to police

Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said in Parliament on Tuesday (May 7) it might not be sufficient to grant civil remedies, like protection orders, to victims of harassment, especially in egregious cases of harassment or hurt.
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said in Parliament on Tuesday (May 7) it might not be sufficient to grant civil remedies, like protection orders, to victims of harassment, especially in egregious cases of harassment or hurt.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Judges will be required to refer serious cases of hurt or harassment to the police even if the victims have not sought the police's help and are only seeking protection orders.

This is part of the responsibilities of the Protection from Harassment Court, a new court that could be established as set out in the Protection from Harassment Bill, which was debated in Parliament on Tuesday (May 7).

The proposed 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 Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) include measures to ensure swifter and more effective help for victims to obtain protection orders against their offenders.

Those who repeatedly harass their victims will face harsher penalties and can be arrested on the spot for breaching protection orders taken against them by victims.

 
 
 

Where harassment is done against intimate partners or the mentally or physically disabled, offenders could receive double the usual penalties.

A new offence of "doxxing" was introduced against those who publish identifiable information about their victims with the intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Such offenders could face a fine and jail term.

The courts would also have more power to order third parties and publishers to stop publishing, disable access to, or issue corrections to rectify false statements about entities or individuals.

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 significant number of amendments to Poha, which was enacted in 2014, is to keep pace with changes in technology and in response to feedback, he said.

"The amendments to Poha give power to the people so that the man in the street can take back the truth, reclaim his dignity."