Are you a victim of family violence? If you are, what can you do about it?
There are various types of protection you can apply for in Singapore against an abusive family member. In the Women’s Charter, family members can apply for a protection order for themselves or other family members (minors/incapacitated persons) against the abuser. The Court may even make a domestic exclusion order (to exclude a family member from home) in very serious cases.
Who is a family member?
“family member”, in relation to a person, means:
- a spouse or former spouse of the person;
- a child of the person, including an adopted child and a step-child;
- a father or mother of the person;
- a father-in-law or mother-in-law of the person;
- a brother or sister of the person; or
- any other relative of the person or an incapacitated person who in the opinion of the court should, in the circumstances, in either case, be regarded as a member of the family of the person;
What does family violence mean?
“family violence” means the commission of any of the following acts:
- wilfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, a family member in fear of hurt;
- causing hurt to a family member by such act which is known or ought to have been known would result in hurt;
- wrongfully confining or restraining a family member against his will; or
- causing continual harassment with intent to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause anguish to a family member,
but does not include any force lawfully used in self-defence, or by way of correction towards a child below 21 years of age;
What do I need to prove?
You will need to satisfy the Court on a balance of probabilities that family violence has been committed or likely to be committed against a family member and that it is necessary for the protection of the family member for a protection order to be made to restrain the person against whom the order is made from using family violence against the family member.
What are the steps to getting a PPO / EO / DEO?
Filing a Complaint
- You have to firstly file a complaint in the Family Justice Courts or one of the Family Violence Specialist Centres. You are encouraged to submit your application online through iFAMS before coming as this will make the initial process shorter.
- At this visit, you will be counselled by a Court Family Specialist who will provide you with the necessary information to ensure your safety. You will then be asked to appear before a Judge who will consider your application and ask you some questions on it. You will be asked to swear or affirm the contents of your application.
- If everything is in order, the Judge will issue a summons to the alleged abuser to ask for his/her presence in Court at a future date. The Court may also at this time issue an Expedited Order (EO) where it deems that there is imminent danger of family violence being committed and that the order would be necessary for your protection pending the case being heard.
- The Court will then serve the summons on the alleged abuser. There will be a nominal sum of $1.00.
Court process (first day)
- The alleged abuser (who will be now called a Respondent) and you will be asked to attend Court on the same date. An officer of the Court will inform the Respondent of the contents of your complaint. If he/she admits and consents to your application, a PPO can be issued at the same date.
- If the Respondent does not agree and/or consent to your complaint, the Court usually direct parties to attend counselling with a Court Family Specialist to determine if there can be a resolution. It is usually on the same day.
- If the counselling is not successful to reach a resolution, parties will then be directed to an open Court (Court 1) to appear before a Judge. If you have engaged lawyers at this time, the lawyer will appear with you.
- The Court will ask both parties if matters remain outstanding and if it does, the Court will give directions for parties to prepare for a trial which includes preparing statements/documents and number of witnesses. The Court will also give a return date for both parties to come prepared and exchange what has been directed. If you have an EO, the Court will also extend this EO to the next Court session.
Preparation for Trial
- It is important for both parties to be represented by lawyers if you are unable to figure out how to prepare as the Court would want both parties to comply with directions when they attend the next Court session. This would entail the preparation of substantial documents/statements and witness list. A lawyer can help you draft these documents and also explain which witnesses may or may not be relevant.
- Parties (with their lawyers if represented) will then attend the next Court session. In some cases, your lawyer may ask for a reply to the other parties’ affidavit if your lawyer deems it necessary. Your lawyer may also ask for an adjournment if we are awaiting more documents to support your case such as a medical report. In the event if there are more Court sessions, your lawyer may also ask for your attendance to be waived so that you do not have to come to Court till the date of the Trial.
- Once the Judge is satisfied that parties are ready for the Trial with their statements/documents and witnesses, the Court will then fix the matter to be heard by another Judge. Parties should inform the Court at this time if they or their witnesses require interpretation at the Trial. This Judge will be the person to decide if the PPO/DEO application is successful.
- Matter is usually fixed for a ½ day or 1-day Trial depending on the number of witnesses giving evidence for the matter.
- Each of the parties and their witnesses will take the witness stand, together with their documents and swear or affirm their evidence. They will then be cross-examined on their evidence by the other side (and sometimes the Judge if he/she needs clarification). This can be a long and arduous process as each party tries to prove their case (either to obtain a PPO/DEO or to defend the application)
- After the cross-examination is completed, the parties will make their arguments to the Court on whether the application should be granted.
- If the parties are represented by lawyers, the cross-examination and the arguments to the Court will be conducted by their lawyers who will be familiar with the test required under the law to obtain or defend a PPO/DEO.
- The Court will then make a decision on the application. This concludes the matter unless either party chooses to appeal the decision within 14 days of the Order.
- If a PPO is granted, protection lasts till it is cancelled.
What happens if either party is absent from court?
If either party fails to turn up for their Court dates e.g. a mentions date, trial date, date for counselling session:
- An absent applicant will have his/her application struck out.
- An absent Respondent will have a warrant of arrest issued against him/her.
What happens if I breach the PPO/EO/DEO order?
A breach of PPO/EO/DEO will give rise to a criminal investigation and may result in a criminal charge. Depending on the seriousness of the breach, the person who breaches the order can be fined by the criminal courts or even sentenced to imprisonment terms.
Why might I want to consider a lawyer for these proceedings?
- As seen above, the process can be tedious and arduous with the need to prepare documents and evidence to prove or disprove the application.
- There will be attendances in open Court and this may be scary for some.
- The Trial process is also daunting as it requires you to take the stand and be examined and cross-examined not just by the other side, but in some cases, the Judge. This can be especially scary if the other side is represented by lawyers.
A lawyer who is familiar with these types of work will help hold your hand through this, draft the documents for you, point you in the right direction, speak in Court on your behalf as well as prepare you for the Hearing.