Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, will be introducing the Protection from Harassment Bill 2014 for First Reading on 3rd March. It will provide a range of self-help measures, civil remedies and criminal sanctions to better protect people from harassment and related anti-social behaviour.
Harassment will be an offence. It will cover a range of behavior, including cyber harassment, bullying of children, sexual harassment within and outside the workplace and stalking. Stalking will also be an offence, if there is a course of conduct related to stalking, and which causes harassment, alarm or distress.
The existing protection for public servants will be extended to workers who deliver essential services to the general public, such as public healthcare workers and public transport workers.
The existing penalties for harassment offences will be increased to reflect their seriousness, and enhanced penalties will be provided for repeat offenders. The Court will also be empowered to make community orders in appropriate cases.
The offences will apply to acts committed outside Singapore as long as certain conditions are satisfied. For example, where an offender who is overseas commits any acts of stalking against a victim who is in Singapore, and the offender knew or ought to have known that the victim would be in Singapore at the time the acts were committed, the offence of stalking will apply.
Self-help and civil remedies
Under the Bill, there will be avenues for self-help and civil remedies for victims of harassment. For example, the victims may apply to the Court for Protection Orders requiring harassers to desist from doing anything which may cause further harm to them. An Expedited Protection Order to protect the victims may be granted in cases of urgency.
Where harassing conduct is made out, the Court may, in appropriate cases, also give a Protection Order requiring the harasser or a third party to remove the offending material which caused harassment. Breaches of Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders will amount to offences under the Bill.
A victim who has false facts alleged against him can also resort to self-help remedies. If the victim can prove in court that the facts are false, the court can direct suitable notification which alerts readers that the facts are false. The form of notification will be at the discretion of the Courts.
The Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs consulted extensively with stakeholders such as AWARE, the Singapore Children’s Society, the Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth, and lawyers who have represented victims of harassment. Some of these proposals were discussed at a conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies in November 2013. A copy of the conference report is available on IPS’ website.