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29 June 2021

Pursuant to the Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act 2019 (Commencement) Notification 2021, the amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA”) relating to the Protection from Harassment Court (“POHA Court”) came into effect on 1 June 2021. Other amendments to POHA which also came into effect on the same day include provisions for enhanced protection for victims of harassment, making it simpler for them to obtain relief.

POHA Court

Sited in the State Courts, the POHA Court is a specialised court dedicated to dealing with harassment matters, whether online or offline, with oversight of all criminal and civil matters under the POHA. Judges will be specially trained to deal with harassment matters. Volunteers will be available on hand, to help victims navigate the court process.

The POHA Court will adopt simplified procedures and expedited timelines for certain types of applications, including applications for Protection Orders (“POs”) and orders relating to false statements. The POHA Court will aim to conduct hearings for Expedited Protection Orders (“EPOs”) within 48 to 72 hours of the filing of the application. Where there is an element of violence involved, the POHA Court will try to conduct hearings for EPOs within 24 hours of the filing of the application. PO applications will be heard within four weeks of the application.

Simplified proceedings may be conducted in an informal manner and the POHA Court may adopt a judge-led approach.

The POHA Court may transfer cases commenced in the POHA Court to other courts (i.e. District Court, Magistrate’s Court or Family Court), and vice versa. Transfer of POHA cases between the POHA Court and the Family Court will be operationalised at a later date.

Enhancing protection afforded by POs/EPOs

Other amendments to the POHA which took effect on 1 June 2021 include enhanced protection afforded by POs and EPOs. A judge granting an EPO will have a duty to consider whether a criminal investigation is warranted. In addition, breaches of POs or EPOs will be arrestable in prescribed scenarios, such as where hurt is caused.

EPOs will now be in place until conclusion of proceedings unless they are successfully challenged - the victim will no longer have to renew EPOs every 28 days. The scope of POs and EPOs has also been extended to protect related persons of the victim.

The ambit of POs has also been widened to deal with the situation where an offender publishes harassing communication which is then shared by others. A PO can be made against the respondent, as well as third parties, to prevent the publication of communications which are not just identical, but also substantially similar to the offending communication. In addition, internet intermediaries can be ordered to disable access to an offending communication published on their platforms.

Further, the courts will be empowered to proactively intervene in cases where the harasser’s conduct may not cross the threshold of criminal or dangerous conduct, but where the facts demonstrate that the harasser is mentally ill. The court may order the respondent to undergo a psychiatric assessment after it grants a PO and undergo psychiatric treatment if certain criteria are fulfilled.

There will also be measures to help victims to meet the burden of proof. If the respondent has been convicted of a POHA offence in respect of the victim or if the court is satisfied on a balance of probabilities that the respondent has voluntarily caused hurt, the requirement to show that the respondent has contravened the POHA will be deemed satisfied.

Background

By way of background, the Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act 2019 was passed in Parliament on 7 May 2019 to provide for, among other things, the offence of doxxing, enhanced measures to address the spread of online falsehoods affecting private persons (both individuals and entities), and the introduction of the POHA Court. With effect from 1 January 2020, amendments relating to doxxing came into effect making it an offence to publish identity information of a victim (an individual) with the intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress to the victim. For more information, please read our article titled “Protection from Harassment Act amended to tackle spread of online falsehoods affecting individuals and entities” which was featured in the May 2020 issue of the Allen & Gledhill Legal Bulletin.

On 1 April 2020, the amendments relating to enhanced measures to tackle the spread of online false statements of facts came into effect. For more information, please read our article titled “Changes to Protection from Harassment Act partially in force from 1 January 2020: New offence of doxxing introduced” which was featured in the January 2020 issue of the Allen & Gledhill Legal Bulletin.

Related subsidiary legislation

The following subsidiary legislations which are available on Singapore Statutes Online sso.agc.gov.sg also came into effect on 1 June 2021:

Reference materials

The joint press release by the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) and State Courts of Singapore is available on the State Courts of Singapore website www.statecourts.gov.sg. The following Annexes are attached to the press release:

  • Annex A for the legal remedies available under POHA 
  • Annex B for a factsheet on the POHA Court 
  • Annex C for translation of key terms (English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil)

 MinLaw also issued an announcement and a flowchart on the POHA process on its website www.mlaw.gov.sg.