Public opinion sought on proposed changes to family violence laws in S'pore

MSF is also inviting feedback on issues regarding personal protection orders. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Both victims and perpetrators of family violence here may soon have their identities shielded to afford them privacy and time to work on their relationships.

This is among proposed changes that the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking the public's opinion on, as recommendations by a task force on family violence are rolled out.

The public consultation is hosted on government feedback portal reach.gov.sg between April 6 and April 30.

Aside from whether publishing information that can lead to identifying a perpetrator or survivor of family violence should be banned, the ministry is also inviting feedback on issues regarding personal protection orders (PPOs).

Current restrictions on publishing such information include a court-imposed gag order on the victim's identity or if children under the age of 18 are involved, as they are protected under the Children and Young Persons Act.

"MSF plans to protect the privacy of specific individuals experiencing family violence to provide them time to recover and focus on repairing their relationships as necessary," said the ministry on April 6.

It added that this will include those who receive social service emergency response, those who are issued the proposed time-limited protection notice, and people with ongoing PPO applications. A PPO is a court order restraining a person from committing violence against a family member.

Exceptions will be made if the director-general of social welfare gives prior approval, or if the PPO applicant consents to publication.

On PPOs, the MSF is seeking the public's views on whether breaches of counselling orders and proposed mandatory assessment and treatment orders by the respondent should be made a criminal offence.

Currently, those who fail to comply with counselling orders made with a PPO are not subject to enforcement action. The applicant has to initiate legal proceedings to take the respondent to task.

The current penalties for breaching a protection order are a fine of up to $2,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both. A subsequent offence is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, a jail term of up to 12 months, or both.

The MSF is also inviting the public to offer feedback on whether there are exceptional cases that warrant revoking PPOs, even if the parties have not completed the counselling order.

Currently, both the respondent and the applicant of the PPO may apply to revoke the order at any time.

Finally, the MSF is also welcoming public response on a more appropriate term or description to replace "mental defective" in Section 144 of the Women's Charter.

"MSF recognises that the term is archaic and unacceptable in today's context," said the ministry.

The public can get more information and provide feedback at this website.

MSF said that views will be non-attributable unless consent is given.

The public consultation comes as the Government has begun rolling out recommendations made by a task force on family violence last September.

Its proposals, which were accepted by the Government in October last year, include letting third parties, such as the director-general of social welfare, apply for PPOs for those experiencing violence even without their consent, if the victims are at risk of serious harm and under undue influence from their loved one not to apply for a PPO.

Other key recommendations include:

- Setting up a new emergency response team comprising social service professionals, who will work with the police to attend to emergency cases that take place after office hours to keep victims safe.

- Training police officers specialising in investigating family violence cases to have the relevant skills and knowledge in issues involving domestic violence.

Last week, the police announced that they will set up a Sexual Crime and Family Violence Command by 2023 to provide victims of sexual crime and family violence with more support.

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