Budget debate: 853 applications for protection orders made since introduction of anti-harassment law in November 2014

They include applications by victims of sexual and workplace harassment, online harassment and harassment by neighbours. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - A total of 853 applications for protection orders have been made as at Dec 31 last year, said Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong on Tuesday (March 2), adding that a new Protection from Harassment Court will start operations this year.

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Law, Mr Tong said the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha), which came into force on Nov 15, 2014, has been strengthened over the years to include new offences, such as doxxing, which is the act of making public someone's private personal information.

The 853 applications include applications by victims of sexual and workplace harassment, online harassment and harassment by neighbours, said Mr Tong, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

"Data based on types of harassment are currently not available, but the State Courts are looking into enhancing the case management system to capture and track such data," he said.

Of them, 348 protection orders were granted, 135 cases were sent for mediation, while 366 Expedited Protection Orders were granted, providing interim relief to the applicants.

This means the courts granted almost immediate relief in more than two out of every five cases, noted Mr Tong. The few remaining applications were either withdrawn, dismissed or still pending resolution.

Mr Tong said that the Poha was amended in 2019 to include new offences, such as doxxing. As at Dec 31 last year, there were 29 cases of doxxing filed in the State Courts, he said.

He also announced that a dedicated Protection from Harassment Court will start operating this year, staffed by judges specifically trained to deal with harassment matters. Volunteers will also be present to help victims through the court process.

"We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the 2019 Poha amendments, and will be able to provide a more holistic assessment after the Poha Court has operated for some time," he said.

There has been a rise in feedback on neighbourly nuisance in the past year, possibly due to more people staying at home during the circuit breaker, noted Mr Tong.

"The management of disputes between neighbours is a delicate and challenging area. While we endeavor to resolve disputes amicably between the disputing parties, neighbours sometimes refuse to communicate with each other, or to compromise, and this leads to a breakdown in the relationship," he said.

He urged people to use community mediation, which is an affordable option to resolve their disputes, adding that over 80 per cent of cases mediated at the Community Mediation Centre reached an amicable settlement.

However, there are cases that still go to the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal (CDRT), said Mr Tong, adding that it "should continue to be the avenue of last resort".

Since the tribunal started operating on Oct 1, 2015, 591 claims have been filed as at Dec 31 last year, he said.

The majority of the cases were resolved within six months, while a handful of cases took longer than a year, said Mr Tong.

Mr Tong said an inter-agency committee, including the Ministries of Law, Culture, Community and Youth, National Development and Home Affairs, has commenced a comprehensive review of the Community Dispute Management Framework.

It will look at how neighbour disputes can be better managed and resolved upfront, measures to increase the take-up of community mediation, and ways to improve the CDRT process.

Mr Tong also said MinLaw will consider some MPs' suggestions on making mediation and counselling compulsory for disputing parties, and continuing to track cases after they have been dealt with in the CDRT.

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