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Singapore – Victims Of Harassment Will Be Afforded Greater Protection When The Protection From Harassment Act 2014 Comes Into Effect.

25 April, 2014

 

 

On 13 March 2014, Parliament passed the Protection of Harassment Act 2014 (“Act”) which will strengthen existing penalties for harassment as well as introduce new offences such as stalking. The Act will provide a range of self-help measures, civil remedies, and criminal sanctions to better protect people from harassment and related anti-social behaviour. The Act comes into effect following extensive consultation by the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs with stakeholders such as AWARE, the Singapore Children’s Society, and lawyers who have represented victims of harassment, who provided feedback that the current laws in Singapore in this area are inadequate. The Act will abolish the common law tort of harassment and all actions for harassment will be covered under this new legislation.


In brief, the Act will:

 

  • Provide examples of what constitutes harassment and stalking, including cyber harassment, bullying in schools, and sexual and workplace harassment;
  • Extend existing protection for public servants to workers who deliver essential services to the general public, such as public healthcare workers and public transport workers;
  • Increase existing penalties for harassment offences to reflect their seriousness and enhance penalties for repeat offenders;
  • Provide avenues for self-help and civil remedies for victims of harassment, including the ability to obtain protection orders and to sue and claim damages against the perpetrator; and
  • Apply to acts committed outside Singapore if certain conditions are satisfied.
 

This Update will look at the new anti-harassment legislation in more detail.

 

Strengthening Existing Harassment Legislation


Presently, sections 13A to 13D of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (“MOA”) criminalise harassment and the threat of provocation of violence. These provisions of the MOA will be included within the new Act, with some amendments. The Act now makes it clear that harassment and related anti-social behaviour are offences whether committed in the physical word or online, by specifying that harassment extends to words, behaviour, or communication made “by any means”, which will include electronic means.


Illustrations have been provided in the Act to give an idea of some of the types of behaviour that will be regarded as harassment, although these illustrations will not limit the situations which may amount to an offence under the Act. The illustrations make it clear, for example, that sexual harassment in the workplace will be regarded as an offence, as will cyber-bullying and bullying of children.


The Act also extends the protection from harassment currently available under section 13D of the MOA to public servants who encounter harassment when exercising their duties. At present, a “public servant” is a person falling under the definition of “public servant” in the Penal Code and includes court officers, judges, officers in the armed forces, and government officers, amongst other. However, the Act will extend this protection to public service workers, i.e., workers who deliver essential public services, such as public healthcare workers and public transport workers. The classes of employees or workers who will be considered to be “public service workers” under the Act may be prescribed by the Minister. Further, it will no longer be necessary that the offending conduct against a public servant or public service worker be committed during the performance of their duties, so long as it is committed in relation to the performance of their duties, which is a slight departure from the original provision.


Offences under the Act will also apply to acts committed outside Singapore, under certain conditions. This is primarily to address the ease with which acts of harassment may be pursued using electronic means such as mobile phones or the internet, which transcend territorial borders. Under the Act, if the offender knew or had reason to believe that the victim would be in Singapore at the time the acts were committed, the Singapore courts would have jurisdiction over the matter. This is the case regardless of whether the offender was outside of Singapore at the relevant time; what is important is that the harm was caused to the victim in Singapore. Similarly, offenders in Singapore who commit acts of harassment against victims who are outside of Singapore will not be able to escape liability.

 

Unlawful Stalking


The Act also introduces a new offence, which is not found in current legislation—that of unlawful stalking. Under the Act, a person will unlawfully stalk another person (the victim) if the accused person engages in a course of conduct which:

 

  • Involves acts or omissions associated with stalking;
  • Causes harassment, alarm, or distress to the victim; and
  • The accused person intends to cause harassment, alarm, or distress to the victim or knows (or ought reasonably to know) that the acts or omissions are likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress to the victim.
 

Examples of what may constitute acts or omissions which are associated with stalking include, but are not limited to:

 

  • Following the victim;
  • Making, or attempting to make, communication by any means with the victim, relating to the victim, or purporting to originate from the victim;
  • Entering or loitering outside or near the victim’s place of residence, business, or other place frequented by the victim;
  • Interfering with property in the possession of the victim;
  • Giving or sending material to the victim, or leaving it where it will be brought to the attention of the victim; or
  • Keeping the victim under surveillance.
 

The Act provides a list of factors to be considered by the court in deciding whether a course of conduct is likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress, including:

 

  • The frequency and duration of the acts or omissions;
  • The manner and circumstances in which the acts or omissions were carried out;
  • The likely effects of the course of conduct on the victim’s safety, health, reputation, economic position, or freedom; and
  • The circumstances of the victim including his physical or mental health and personality.
 

There are certain behaviours that will not be regarded as an offence of unlawful stalking. For example, the Act will not apply to inconsiderate behaviours in the context of neighbour disputes, which will have to be dealt with through separate legislation. The Act will also exclude legitimate courses of conduct, for example sending a letter of demand for money owed under a contract or actions by police in pursuance of their duties.

 

Harsher Penalties For Offenders


At present, if convicted of harassment under sections 13A to 13C of the MOA, the current maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding SGD 5,000. If convicted of harassment of a public servant under section 13D of the MOA, the maximum penalty is a fine of up to SGD 5,000 or up to one year imprisonment.


The Act will provide the court with a wider range of sentencing options to ensure that the sentence meted out in each case better reflects the culpability of the offender and the harm caused to the victim. This means that more offences, including unlawful stalking, now attract an imprisonment term where appropriate, instead of or as well as a fine. There is also provision for an enhanced penalty for repeat offenders, who may be liable for a fine of up to SGD 10,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.


The court will also have the power to make Community Orders under Part XVII of the Criminal Procedure Code in appropriate cases. Such orders may include a mandatory treatment order, a day reporting order, a community work order, a community service order, or a short detention order. The provision to make orders such as mandatory treatment orders means that offenders who harass due to an underlying mental condition may be allowed to undergo psychiatric treatment in lieu of other criminal penalties.

 

Further Remedies For Victims


A victim of harassment under the Act will have a statutory right to bring an action for damages against a person who has contravened the Act. Any such damages will be quantified by the courts in accordance with existing common law principles. However, damages will not be recoverable where the harm results to the victim in his capacity as a public servant or public service worker.


In cases where a false statement has been made against a victim and that victim seeks redress but does not necessarily wish to pursue a civil claim for damages, or make a criminal complaint against the offender, the Act also provides that the court may direct a notification to be published which alerts readers that the facts stated are false and brings attention to the true facts.


Under the Act, victims of harassment and related anti-social behaviour will now be able to apply to the court for a Protection Order (“PO”). The court may grant a PO where it is satisfied that:

 

  • An act of harassment under the Act has been committed by the respondent in respect of the victim;
  • The act(s) of harassment is likely to continue, or the respondent is likely to commit a further act(s) of harassment in respect of the victim; and
  • It is just and equitable in all the circumstances.

Such a PO may require harassers to do all or any of the following:

 

  • Desist from doing that which is stated in the order, for example stop sending unwanted gifts or loitering outside the victim’s house;
  • Remove harassing publications and other forms of communication, if these were the cause of the harassment (This also extends to third parties, for example a publisher or website administrator); and
  • Require the harasser to attend counselling or mediation.
 

In cases of urgency, the court will also have the power to grant an Expedited Protection Order (“EPO”) without notice of the application first being served on the respondent in cases where the offending conduct is likely to have a substantial adverse effect on the victim or the victim’s day-to-day activities, for example, where the victim:

 

  • Is forced to change how they go to work or conduct their daily routine;
  • Puts additional security measures in their home;
  • Moves out of his or her home; or
  • Is forced to or withdraws from social interaction.

 

An EPO will last for a period of 28 days or until the first day of the hearing for a protection order, whichever is earlier. Further, a breach of a PO or an EPO will be an offence and may attract a fine, imprisonment, or both.

 

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For further information, please contact:

 

Christopher De Souza, Partner, WongPartnership
christopher.desouza@wongpartnership.com


Yik Wee Liew, Partner, WongPartnership
yikwee.liew@wongpartnership.com

 

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