A Protection from Harassment Court will begin operating this year, said Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong on Tuesday (2 Mar).
Speaking in Parliament during the committee of supply debate on the budget of the Ministry of Law today, Mr Tong said that the new court “was designed with the end-user in mind” where judges will be specially trained to deal with harassment matters.
Volunteers, he added, will also “be on hand to help victims navigate the process”, he added.
The Protection from Harassment Court, said Mr Tong, will adopt simplified procedures and expedited timelines for certain types of applications and will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the 2019 amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).
POHA came into effect on Nov 15, 2014. Since then, actions such as doxxing — exposing a particular individual’s private personal information such as their residential address and sensitive details — have been included in the list of offences under the Act.
“We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the 2019 POHA amendments, and will be able to provide a more holistic assessment after the POHA Court has operated for some time,” said Mr Tong.
The Minister noted that as at 31 Dec last year, there were 29 cases of doxxing that were filed in the State Courts.
The establishment of the Protection from Harassment Court comes in light of the high number of cases involving harassment, whereby a total of 853 applications for protection orders have been made as at 31 Dec last year.
Mr Tong, who is also the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, highlighted that the said applications ranged from those filed by victims of sexual and workplace harassment to those facing harassment by neighbours.
Of the 853 cases, 348 protection orders were granted, 135 cases were sent for mediation, while 366 Expedited Protection Orders were granted, providing interim relief to the applicants, he said.
The few remaining applications were either withdrawn, dismissed or still pending resolution.
In terms of neighbourly disputes, Mr Tong said that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has compelled people to stay home, particularly during the circuit breaker, has been behind the increase in feedback on neighbourly nuisance in the past one year.
“The management of disputes between neighbours is a delicate and challenging area. While we endeavour to resolve disputes amicably between the disputing parties, neighbours sometimes refuse to communicate with each other or to compromise, and this leads to a breakdown in the relationship,” he said.
Mr Tong subsequently encouraged people to utilise community mediation, which is an affordable option to resolve their disputes.
He noted that more than 80 per cent of cases mediated at the Community Mediation Centre have reached an amicable settlement.
The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal (CDRT), said Mr Tong, “should continue to be the avenue of last resort”.
591 claims have been filed to the Tribunal since its inception in 2015 as at Dec 31 last year, he noted.
Other than taking into account some Member of Parliament’s suggestions on making mediation and counselling compulsory for parties in dispute, as well as continuing monitoring cases after they have been resolved in the CDRT, Mr Tong said that the Law Ministry will work with other ministries and agencies regarding such issues.
It will work in a committee alongside the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Development and Home Affairs, to carry out a comprehensive review of the Community Dispute Management Framework to help resolve disputes more effectively, particularly via community mediation, and to seek ways to improve the CDRT process.