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Singapore – Protection From Harassment Bill 2014.

5 March, 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore – Labour & Employment

 

Introduction

 

The Protection From Harassment Bill (“PHB”) was tabled in Parliament on 3 March 2014. The proposed legislation seeks to enhance the protection of persons against harassment and anti-social behaviour such as cyber bullying and unlawful stalking, by providing a range of self-help and civil remedies as well as imposing criminal liability on perpetrators who engage in such behaviour.

 

The date of the 2nd reading of the Bill has not been set, but it is slated to take place after the Budget Debates.

 

This Update provides a brief overview on the structure of the PHB.

 

Background

 

Most of the offences relating to harassment and anti-social behaviour are currently covered by the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap 184) (“MOA”). When enacted, the new Act will extend these offences as well as introduce a new one, unlawful stalking, under a consolidated legislation. With this, the corresponding offences in the MOA (Section 13A-D) will be repealed, and the common law tort of harassment will be abolished. The intention of this is so that no civil proceedings will be brought for harassment except under the new Act when it is passed.

 

Part I – Preliminary

 

The PHB uses the term ‘communication’ to describe the medium or mode that can be used to commit offences under the new Act. Under Section 2 of the PHB, ‘communication’ is defined as “any words, image, message, expression, symbol or other representation, that can be heard, seen or otherwise perceived by any person.” This meaning encompasses a wider scope of acts that can constitute an offence than that under the MOA.

 

Part II – Offences And Penalties

 

The offences under the PHB are set out from Section 3 to 7. Specifically, Section 3 to 6 of the PHB re-enacts Sections 13A to 13D of the MOA. Section 7 introduces the new offence of unlawful stalking. The Ministry of Law has stated that these offences will cover a variety of behaviour, which includes “cyber bullying, bullying of children and sexual harassment within and outside the workplace.”

 

Section 3 – Intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress

 

Section 3 of the PHB makes it an offence for any person to intentionally cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person, whether by way of threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour or communications. (“Offending Actions”)

 

Any person guilty of this offence is punishable with a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six (6) months or to both.

 

Section 3 also provides a defence for the accused if he can prove that his conduct was reasonable.

 

Section 4 – Harassment, alarm or distress

 

Under this section, it is an offence for any person to cause harassment, alarm or distress by way of the Offending Actions which is heard, seen or otherwise perceived by that person.

 

Unlike Section 3, the offence under this section does not require intention on the part of the accused.

 

Any person guilty of this offence is punishable with a fine not exceeding S$5,000.

For this offence, the defence of reasonable conduct applies as well. There is also an additional defence under Section 4(3)(a) if the accused can prove that he had no reason to believe that the Offending Actions would be heard, seen or otherwise perceived by the victim.

 

Section 5 – Fear Or Provocation Of Violence

 

Section 5 makes it an offence for any person to intentionally, by way of Offending Actions, cause another person (the victim) to be put in fear of, or provoked to use unlawful violence against another person, where there is a likelihood of it happening.

 

Any person guilty of this offence is punishable with a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

 

Under this section, the defence of reasonable conduct also applies. The defence that the accused had no reason to believe that the Offending Actions would be heard, seen or otherwise perceived by the victim can be raised as a defence as well.

 

Section 6 – Threatening, abusing or insulting public servant or public service worker

 

Under this section, it is an offence for any person to use any indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour or make such communication against public servants or public service workers in relation to the performance of their duty. This section corresponds with Section 13D of the MOA but extends the protection to include public service workers such as public healthcare and transport workers.

 

For this offence, the accused must know or ought reasonably to know that the public servant or public service worker was acting in that capacity.

 

Any person guilty of this offence is punishable with a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

 

Here, the defences applicable to Section 4 apply as well.

 

Section 7 – Unlawful Stalking

 

Section 7 introduces the new offence of unlawful stalking, which is defined to mean a ‘course of conduct involving acts or omissions with stalking that causes harassment, alarm or distress to the victim.’ For this offence, the accused must either have the intention or knowledge or ought reasonably to have the knowledge, that his conduct was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to the victim.

 

The section also cites a number of examples of unlawful stalking and provides illustrations for them. For instance, loitering outside the victim’s home, or sending the victim frequent and multiple messages or gifts when requested not to do so, can constitute an offence of unlawful stalking.

 

In determining whether harassment, alarm or distress is likely, the court has to consider a list of factors set out in this section. These factors include the duration and frequency of the conduct and the likely effects of the conduct on the victim’s safety, health and reputation.

 

Any person guilty of this offence is punishable with a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

 

Section 7 contains several defences that are unique to it. These mainly relate to proper justifications for the stalking conduct, such as engaging in such course of conduct pursuant to a written law or rule of law.

 

Other sections

 

Section 8 allows for the imposition of heavier penalties for repeat offenders. Also, Section 9 grants the court the power to impose a community order on the offender.

 

Part III – Remedies

 

Apart from the criminal sanctions, various civil remedies are provided for in the PHB. For instance, under Section 12, victims can apply to the District Court for a Protection Order to compel offenders to stop their Offending Actions. If the District Court is satisfied of the need, it may issue an expedited Protection Order under Section 13. Non-compliance with such an order is an offence under Section 10 and punishable with fines or jail time.

The PHB also provides for a statutory right to bring a private action for damages in civil proceedings for any infringement of Sections 3, 4, 5 or 7. Note that Section 6 is excluded from this.

 

Section 14 abolishes the common law tort of harassment and provides that civil proceedings for the tort of harassment can only be brought under the PHB.

 

A victim of a false publication of statements against him can apply to the court under Section 15 for an order that the publication be taken down or discontinued, or that the publication can remain on condition that it must contain a notification that brings attention to the true facts and establishes the falsehood of the statement.

 

Part IV – General

 

The ambit of the new Act will be wider than that of the MOA. Under Section 17 of the PHB, the court will be empowered with the jurisdiction to try harassment or unlawful stalking offences committed abroad as long as there is a sufficient nexus with the victim in Singapore.

 

Concluding Words

 

When the new Act is enacted, Singapore would have a consolidated legislation governing harassment, anti-social behaviour and stalking. This will potentially remove the uncertainty of the existing law, which currently comprises of various pieces of legislation.

 

The enactment of the PHB will afford victims protection against harassment which originates outside of Singapore, as long as there is a sufficient nexus with the victim in Singapore.

Further, the same standards of what constitutes harassment will now apply to electronic communication transmitted online. This may lead to individuals moderating their behaviour online and hopefully reduce instances of cyberbullying.

 

Victims of unlawful stalking, which can also occur online, would, under this new Act when it is passed, have some recourse to stop such disturbing behaviour and return normality to their lives.

 

Rajah & Tann

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Lionel Tan, Partner, Rajah & Tann 

lionel.tan@rajahtann.com

 

Rajesh Sreenivasan, Partner, Rajah & Tann  

rajesh@rajahtann.com

 

Steve Tan, Partner, Rajah & Tann 

steve.tan@rajahtann.com

 

Benjamin Cheong, Partner, Rajah & Tann  

benjamin.cheong@rajahtann.com

 

Rajah & Tann Labour & Employment Practice Profile in Singapore

 

 

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