Stop the Harassment: Applying for a Protection Order in Singapore
What is a Protection Order (PO)?
Made under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), a Protection Order (PO) protects harassment victims from future harassment.
A PO can offer protection from harassment by:
- Prohibiting the perpetrator from doing any harassing acts towards the victim;
- Requiring that nobody publish harassing communications, or continue to publish such communications;
- Referring the perpetrator and/or the victim to attend counselling or mediation; and/or
- Giving any other direction that is necessary to ensure that a PO is effective.
Difference between a PO under the POHA and a Personal Protection Order (PPO) under the Women’s Charter
A PO under the POHA is intended to protect the victim from harassment. The acts of harassment covered under the PO can be wide-ranging, from workplace bullying to stalking, and can be committed by friends, colleagues or strangers.
In contrast, a PPO under the Women’s Charter is a more limited remedy that is intended to protect individuals from acts of violence committed by family members.
Who Can Apply For a PO?
You can apply for a PO if you are a victim of any one of the following acts of harassment:
|Provision||Act of harassment||Explanation|
|Section 3 of the POHA||Use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, words or communication with the intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.||This includes words or behaviour directly or indirectly communicated to the victim. E.g. workplace bullying (including workplace sexual harassment) where comments and behaviours are made directly to a victim or within their earshot so the victim will hear the comments, and the comments were intended to cause the victim to feel harassed.|
|Section 4 of the POHA||Use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, words or communication which is likely to cause the victim harassment, alarm or distress when seen, heard or otherwise perceived.
(This is even if the perpetrator had not intended to cause such harassment, alarm or distress, unlike in section 3.)
|For example, posting comments about the victim on a widely accessible social media platform which causes the victim to feel harassed after discovering them, even though there was no intention to make the victim feel harassed.|
|Section 5 of the POHA||Use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour with the intent of causing the victim to believe that they will be the subject of violence, or with the intent to provoke violence from the victim.||For example, sending letters to the victim that contain threats of physical harm.|
|Section 6 of the POHA||Any indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, words or communication to a public servant or public service worker in relation to the execution of their duties.||This provision provides specific protection for public servants who face harassment in the course of their duties.|
|Section 7 of the POHA||Stalking behaviour||Acts associated with stalking include following the victim and loitering outside the victim’s home.|
Applying for a PO against doxxing
As of 1 January 2020, victims (or any person related to the victim, e.g. friends or family) who face harassment as a result of doxxing, i.e. online vigilantes sharing their personal information, can also apply for POs to protect them from harassment caused by doxxing.
|New Doxxing Provision||Act of Harassment||Explanation|
|Section 3 of the POHA||Publishing the personal information of a person (or of others related to that person) with the intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress to that person, and that person (or any other person) experiences harassment, alarm or distress as a result.||For example, A publishes the personal information of B on an online forum, with the intention to cause distress to B. A may be guilty of doxxing if B’s family members or colleagues feel distressed by the publishing of B’s information. This is even though their own personal information had not been shared.|
|Section 5 of the POHA||Publishing the personal information of a person (or of others related to that person), while intending, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely, to facilitate the use of unlawful violence against that person (or any other person).||For example, A publishes the personal information of B on an online forum. A may be guilty of doxxing if A’s actions facilitate the use of violence against B’s family members or colleagues, even if not against B himself.|
|Section 5 of the POHA||Publishing the personal information of a person (or of others related to that person), while intending, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely that that person will believe that unlawful violence will be used against himself (or any other person).||For example, A publishes the personal information of B on an online forum. For A to be guilty of an offence, B must believe that violence will be used against him or other people such as his family members and colleagues. It is not enough for B’s family members or colleagues to hold this belief. B must hold this belief himself.|
When Can a PO be Applied For?
For a PO to be granted, 3 requirements must be met:
- The perpetrator has committed an act of harassment under sections 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 of the POHA (refer to the tables above);
- The perpetrator is likely to commit future acts of harassment; and
- The court believes that it is “just and equitable in all the circumstances” to grant a PO.
Meaning of “just and equitable in all the circumstances”
In considering whether it is just and equitable for the court to grant a PO, the court will take into account factors such as:
- The nature and severity of the harassment;
- The perpetrator’s motive and purpose;
- How much emotional and psychological harm the victim suffered;
- To what extent the harassing conduct had been known to the public;
- Whether the victim could have avoided the harassment;
- Whether the perpetrator genuinely tried to ensure that the victim would not misconstrue or misunderstand his/her actions; and
- Whether the harassment could be expected to be tolerated by reasonable persons.
How Long Will the PO Take Effect For?
As a PO is a highly flexible remedy that takes into account the victim’s circumstances, the period of protection will vary according to each individual’s situation. The duration of protection will be specified in the order according to the court’s discretion.
How to Apply For a PO
Step 1: Undergo a pre-filing assessment for your matter
If you are filing a PO on your own (i.e. without a lawyer), you will need to attend a pre-filing assessment at the State Courts. The pre-filing assessment aims to give you a better understanding of the process of filing for a PO, before referring you to an Assessor who will assess your case.
If you have engaged the services of a lawyer, you will not need to attend a pre-filing assessment as your lawyer will be well-equipped to provide an assessment of your case for you.
If you are required to attend a pre-filing assessment, please visit the State Courts’ Central Registry and bring with you the following:
- Your NRIC or other forms of personal identification;
- Evidence of the harassing act, such as print-outs of emails, blogs, websites, photographs; and
- Police report or medical report (if any).
Step 2: Filing your application for a PO
The following documents are needed to file an application for a PO. Copies of the relevant forms can be obtained from the State Courts’ website:
- An Ex Parte Originating Summons (OS) (Form 235), to commence the hearing of the PO application
- A Supporting Affidavit (SA) (Form 236), which contains your supporting documents that you wish to use as evidence in court.
You will need to affirm/swear that your affidavit is true to the best of your knowledge. This can be done before a Commissioner for Oaths or at the State Courts’ Central Registry. The cost of doing this in the Central Registry is at least $15.
When you have prepared your documents, you will need to file these documents via the eLitigation portal. If you have engaged the services of a law firm, your lawyer can file the documents electronically on your behalf.
If you are applying for the PO on your own, you will have to personally file your documents at the LawNet and CrimsonLogic Service Bureaus.
Filing fees and service charges will apply as follows:
|Document fee||Transmission fee||Processing fee||Service Bureau’s service charge|
|Ex parte originating summons||$100||$0.80/page||$4||$13.50|
|Supporting affidavit (with supporting evidence)||$1/page
(Minimum fee of $10)
After you have filed your documents, you will need to serve a copy of your OS and SA on the alleged perpetrator. This is a formal procedure by which you inform that party that he/she has a court order issued against them.
The alleged perpetrator can also file a response to your application using Form 237.
Within 8 days of serving your documents on the alleged perpetrator, you will need to file an Affidavit of Service.
Step 3: Attend a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC)
3 to 4 weeks after your OS and SA are filed, both you and the alleged perpetrator will have to attend a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC) before a judge. The aim of the PTC is for the parties to settle the administrative matters related to the hearing, such as the timeline and hearing date.
The judge may also explore alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation or counselling. If no amicable resolution can be reached, the case may be directed for a hearing.
Step 4: Attend a court hearing
You should bring along your witnesses and any evidence, such as photographs, police and/or medical reports, and computer print-outs of the online harassment.
This webpage explains the format that you should prepare your evidence in and how many copies you need to prepare.
During the hearing, the judge will consider the evidence that you have put forward, as well as the alleged perpetrator’s own case, before making a decision on whether the PO should be granted.
Step 5: Serving the PO on the perpetrator
If your application for a PO is successful and the PO is granted, you must serve it on the perpetrator. The PO takes effect only after it has been served.
How Long Might It Take For You to Get the PO?
At present, there is no fixed timeline for when you are to receive the PO but it is likely to be more than a month.
If you need a PO urgently, you should apply for an Expedited Protection Order (EPO) on top of your application for a PO.
An EPO has a faster timeline as the PTC will be fixed within the next 3 working days, unlike the PTC for a PO, which is at least 3 weeks from the date of filing.
An EPO can only be applied for alongside a PO. If you are applying for an EPO, you should let the LawNet and CrimsonLogic Service Bureau staff know when you’re filing your documents with them. This is so that they can help you request for urgent processing of your documents.
Nonetheless, the May 2019 amendments to the POHA established the specialist Protection from Harassment Courts with streamlined procedures that will make it easier and quicker to obtain a PO and an EPO.
Once the Protection from Harassment Courts have started operations, an EPO may be granted within 48 to 72 hours of filing an application and, where there is a risk of violence or actual violence, possibly within 24 hours. A PO application may also be processed within 4 weeks.
What If You’re Dissatisfied with the Outcome of Your PO Application?
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your application for a PO, you can appeal the decision. Please note that a decision of the court on EPOs cannot be appealed.
What Happens If the PO is Breached?
With the exception of orders for the perpetrator to attend counselling or mediation, breaches of any order or direction in a PO should be reported to the police. The perpetrator can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed up to 6 months.
Repeat breaches of POs will command a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a jail term of up to 12 months.
Varying, suspending or revoking a PO
The PO is a flexible remedy that can be adapted to your needs if your circumstances change.
If you feel that the terms of your PO do not provide sufficient protection, you may wish to make changes to the directions contained in the order by submitting an application to vary the PO.
Alternatively, if you feel that you no longer require the protection offered by the PO, you can apply to either:
- Suspend the PO, thus temporarily suspending the effect of the PO; or
- Revoke the PO, which will cancel the PO.
An application to vary, suspend or revoke the PO can be done by filing a summons (Form 240) and providing a supporting affidavit (Form 241). This application and Supporting Affidavit must be served on the perpetrator.
The court may arrange for a hearing to decide on the application. If the court orders for the PO to be varied, suspended or revoked (as relevant), the applicant must then serve the court order on the perpetrator (and on any other person required by the court).
Do You Need a Lawyer to Apply For a PO?
It is not necessary to engage a lawyer to apply for a PO as it can be done by yourself. However, a PO has many administrative requirements and a lawyer can guide you through the application process.
The assistance of a lawyer can also increase the likelihood of a successful PO application as he/she can help to ensure that the proper forms are used and relevant evidence is presented before the court.