Parliament: Stiffer penalties to protect vulnerable victims of harassment

Posed photo of a man scolding a woman. The new penalties for offences against vulnerable persons with mental or physical disabilities will match those introduced recently in the Criminal Law Reform Bill.
Posed photo of a man scolding a woman. The new penalties for offences against vulnerable persons with mental or physical disabilities will match those introduced recently in the Criminal Law Reform Bill.PHOTO: ST FILE

Penalties will double for offenders who harass their intimate partners or the physically or mentally infirm under proposed changes to the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha).

The new penalties for offences against vulnerable persons with mental or physical disabilities will match those introduced recently in the Criminal Law Reform Bill, the Law Ministry said in a statement yesterday on the amendments.

It added: "Victims of harassment by intimate partners are often vulnerable and require greater protection. The voluntary welfare organisations we consulted shared numerous cases of abusive behaviour by intimate partners."

The proposals are among changes to Poha introduced in Parliament yesterday by Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong.

Harassers can be fined up to $10,000 and jailed a maximum of 12 months for intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress to their intimate partners or vulnerable persons.

If they are found to have provoked or caused fear of violence, or have stalked such victims, they could face a maximum fine of $10,000 and 24 months in jail.

The changes also provide for swifter relief to victims of harassment as a new court will be set up to hear all harassment-related cases and will aim to hear Expedited Protection Order applications within three days of application. In instances where there is the threat of violence, the court will aim to hear such applications within 24 hours.

 

In addition, unrepentant harassers who harass their victims in defiance of their Protection Orders could be arrested on the spot and will face double the penalties for subsequent breaches.

Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders, which are interim orders while an application for a Protection Order is being heard, could also be extended to protect people related to the victim.

With changes to the Act, victims of harassment could be granted a Domestic Exclusion Order to prevent harassers from entering their residence or any part of it.

This will be granted as part of a Protection Order and would ensure better protection for victims who may reside in the same residence as their harasser.

The amendments also clarify that entities such as businesses could be liable for harassment-related behaviour.

This would mean businesses that carry out institutionalised harassment, such as debt collectors, could be found guilty of harassment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2019, with the headline 'Stiffer penalties to protect vulnerable victims of harassment'. Print Edition | Subscribe