Protection From Harassment

Protection From Harassment

The Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) has finally introduced long-awaited remedies against harassment, covering offences not only inside Singapore but also those committed from outside against persons residing in Singapore, including attacks from the internet.

The law has finally expanded the protection against harassment covering relations within not only the family but in all other spheres of life, such as school, work, or public settings, also including cyberspace. Given the new realities and influence of the Internet and social media, the POHA Act focuses on well-known and most recent types of offence including sexual harassment, stalking, doxxing, and other types of threatening, abusive or insulting behavior or communication in real or virtual environments.

Those who are subjected to harassment can make use of an expanded set of remedies, including the Protection Orders (PO), Expedited Protection Orders (EPO), Non-Publication Orders (NPO), as well as civil proceedings against offenders.

Taking into account the specifics of each individual situation and a wide range of remedies available under the POHA Act as well as other Singaporean laws, including the Women Charter and the Penal Code, it is advisable to turn for help to an experienced lawyer to have guidance on the proceedings. An experienced attorney would suggest the most suitable remedies and walk you through the procedures for applying for any of them to stop the offence as quickly and efficiently as possible.

What is Considered Harassment in Singapore?

The POHA Act protects against various types of harassment, including the use of any threatening, abusive, or insulting behavior, making similar communication as well as so-called doxxing, which is publishing identity information of the target persons or their close ones.

In Singapore, the following types of actions will be considered as harassment:

  1. Intentionally causing harassment, alarm, or distress through threatening, abusive or insulting behavior, communication, as well as through disclosure of personal data of the target person. For example, when one of the co-workers makes remarks about the alleged promiscuity of his colleague within the hearing range of the latter, such statements constitute an offence;
  2. Engaging in behavior or communication which are likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress when perceived by any person. Examples include cases of shouting threats that make people around alarmed, although the threats were not explicitly directed at anyone;
  3. 3. Causing fear, making provocations, or facilitating violence. These include any direct threatening, abusive or insulting communication or taking similar actions to cause a victim to believe that unlawful violence will be used against him or her, or to provoke the use of violence by the victim against anyone. Such type of behavior is often seen in the school environment;
  4. Offences in relation to public officials or public service workers through indecent, abusive, threatening, or insulting behavior or communication; and
  5. Unlawful stalking, such as surveillance, following the victim, making or attempting to make any communications, interfering with the property, loitering near the residence, or similar behavior which is intended to harass, alarm, or cause distress.

Remedies under the POHA Act

The POHA Act provides several types of remedies against offenders. The list of those include:

  1. Protection Order (PO). The courts have a broad authority to include any directions to the PO, which the Court deems necessary to stop the harassment. Typically, such requirements include a prohibition of any abusive acts towards the victim, discontinuing similar communication, and removal of harassing publications. The court may also refer to the perpetrator and/or the victim to attend counseling or mediation.
  2. The Expedited Protection Order (EPO). While getting a Protection Order in Singapore might take from several weeks to more than a month, some situations call for immediate protection. In such cases, a victim may apply for an EPO separately or parallel with an application for a standard PO. At the same time, it must be remembered that unlike in the case with the Protection Order, the decision of the Court on EPO cannot be appealed.
  3. Civil claim. In addition to other remedies under the POHA Act, the victims of the harassment can bring civil claims against the offenders. The court has wide discretion over the award, and if the court is satisfied with the plaintiff’s allegations, the court award such damages, which are in its opinion are just and equitable.
  4. Order for Non-Publication. The victims of harassment may file an application to the Court to seek an Order for Non-Publication, which would forbid the publication of harassing statements. In addition, the Court may demand issuance of the notice, which would deflate falsehood and bring attention to the true facts.

Punishments under POHA Act

Harassment, abusive behavior, and stalking are viewed as a serious offence in Singapore and are punishable by both imprisonment and fines. Thus, any person who is considered guilty of violating the POHA Act by committing anything of the above is subject to imprisonment for up to 6 months and/or a monetary fine up to $5,000.

Moreover, any subsequent harassment is considered as even more serious offense, punished by imprisonment up to 12 or even 24 months and/or by a fine of up to $10,000.

The POHA Act provides additional protection for vulnerable persons as well as to persons who are or were in an intimate relationship with the offender. The list of vulnerable persons includes individuals with mental or physical infirmity or disability who are substantially unable to protect themselves. The criteria for intimate relations do not obligatorily presume living under the same roof or sexual relationship but can also include taking joint care of a person under 21 years of age or sharing tasks and duties of daily lives.

Any of the offences under the POHA Act, made against vulnerable persons and persons who were in the intimate relationship with the offender, are punishable more severely compared with a similar offence without such aggravating circumstances.

Applying for a Protection Order in Singapore

Although it’s possible to obtain a Protection Order as well as other remedies on your own, having a lawyer on your side can greatly expedite the process and exclude some steps such as pre-filling assessment or the need to visit the Service Bureau to file you case, which can be handled by a lawyer. Below is an overview of the whole process for your consideration.

Pre-Filing Assessment

The process of applying for protection against harassment in Singapore starts from a pre-filling assessment by Harassment Cases Registry at State Courts. The assessor will explain the remedies and may suggest alternatives in addition to the judicial ones.

At this stage, you can choose civil remedies offered by POHA, including a Protection Order (PO), Expedite Protection Order (PO), Non-Publication Order (NPO), and/or monetary compensation. You may also opt for criminal remedies including making a police report or filing a Magistrate Complaint.

Filing for Civil Remedies under the POHA Act

If you choose a civil track and decide file for PO, EPO or NPO under the Protection From Harassment Act, the procedure would start at the Service Bureau where you would need to file a package of documents, including:

  • Ex Parte Originating Summons,
  • Supporting Affidavit, including supporting evidence for the Court.

The Supporting Affidavit must be affirmed or sworn before the Commissioner for Oath or at the State Court’s Central Registry.

Serving Summons Upon the Respondent

This is another step where lawyer’s support can be of great help.  According to the regulation, the Summons is to be served either by the lawyer or by the court official, named the Court Process Server, in which case the Complainant will have to accompany the Court Process Server in person. In many situations, serving the Summons personally upon the offender might be unbearable for the victim of the harassment, and it might be much appropriate to refer this to a lawyer.

Attendance of a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC)

The PTC conference takes place in court and precedes the court hearing. At this stage, the Judge would check if a resolution can be reached through mediation and, in cases where the matter cannot be resolved by mediation, would direct for a hearing called the trial. The Judge may set the procedure and the hearing date for the trial at the PTC conference or give directions for discovery and other interlocutory matters

Preparation of the Evidence

All evidence must be prepared according to the requirements presumed by the State Courts of Singapore. It should include 3 sets of documents for the judge, the respondent, and for your own purposes. The documents should be made or translated in English and be properly binded and paginated. You should bring any photographs, copies of publications or recordings in CD-R or DVD-R format, transcribing the important parts of the recording in the Affidavit.

Court Hearing

During the hearing, the Judge would review the evidence of the plaintiff and the respondent and will hear the arguments of the parties. The decision as to the issuance of Protection Order and providing other remedies will be based on all the circumstances. The Judge will consider the evidence as well as explanations of the respondent to find out whether the alleged offender had the intent to alarm a victim, whether the accused individual’s behavior was reasonable and other facts pertaining to the case.

Serving the Protection Order

If the Court grants the Protection Order, the plaintiff shall serve it on the respondent. The regulations of the State Court also recommend filing an Affidavit of Service confirming that the respondent has received a copy of the PO. It must be remembered that the Protection Order comes into effect only after it is served.

Other Considerations

Due to globalization and the role of the Internet in modern life, the availability of protection against harassment on the web or when the victim and/or the offender are located outside Singapore becomes ever more important. The POHA Act protects victims of harassment even when they are located abroad while their offender was in Singapore when engaging in offensive behavior or communication, or making corresponding publications.

Likewise, the POHA Act grants the same protections when the offender was abroad and acted or communicated in a harassing matter in relation to a person who was in Singapore at the time of such offence.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that while this article focuses on regulations provided by POHA Act, the Protection from Harassment Act is not the only law in Singapore protecting against such offences. Please visit our Learning Centre if you are interested in reading about other remedies available under Woman Charter and Magistrate Complaints.

Summary

The anti-harassment laws in Singapore provide strong protection to victims of harassment, defending against the most known types of such offences in private and public life. The Protection Orders, along with high fines and penalty of long-term imprisonment, are intended to deter off the perpetrators and return the peace of mind for the victims.

Although the POHA Act and other regulations provide clear procedures for applying for remedies including civil claims, PO, EPO, NPO, Magistrate Complaints, and others, it might become quite challenging to go through all of them at the time of distress while under attack. Anyone experiencing the hardship of harassment is encouraged to seek the advice of experienced lawyers who will handle procedural steps, preparing and submitting evidence, as well as serving and applying the Protection Orders and other remedies.

About the author

Mohamed Baiross
Mohamed Baiross

Managing Partner

Baiross is the managing partner of IRB Law LLP. He is an experienced lawyer with an excellent reputation across a broad selection of practice areas including divorce, insolvency, crime, probate, syariah, and civil litigation.

In light of the current situation, please note that video and phone consultations remain fully available. Please contact us should you require any legal assistance. 
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