Guide to the Protection from Harassment Court in Singapore
The Protection from Harassment Court (PHC) was established in Singapore on 1 June 2021 to hear all criminal and civil matters under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).
The establishment of the PHC, along with its streamlined filing process, aims to make it more convenient and faster for victims of harassment to obtain relief under the POHA.
This article will cover:
- The types of cases the PHC hears
- The civil remedies and criminal sanctions that you can expect the PHC to mete out
- The filing process in the PHC
- The post-filing process in the PHC
- What you can do if a harasser breaches an order granted by the PHC
What Types of Cases Does the Protection from Harassment Court Hear?
As mentioned above, the PHC will hear all criminal and civil matters under the POHA in Singapore. The POHA covers the following criminal offences:
- Intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress.
- Causing harassment, alarm or distress.
- Using any threatening, abusive or insulting words to another person to cause fear or provoke violence.
- Publishing any identity information about another person to cause fear or provoke violence.
- Unlawful stalking.
Accordingly, any criminal matters that fall under the above five categories will be heard in the PHC.
You can refer to our guide to the Protection from Harassment Act for more detailed information about the offences covered under the POHA, including the elements of the offences, examples of the offences and the penalties for each offence.
Additionally, section 11 of the POHA allows victims of any of the criminal offences above sue their harasser in court in a civil action for damages or for other civil remedies. These civil matters will also be heard in the PHC.
What are the Types of Criminal Sanctions and Civil Remedies that the Protection From Harassment Court Can Mete Out?
If it is established that a criminal offence under the POHA has been committed, the PHC can mete out criminal sanctions such as fines and prison sentences.
Additionally, the PHC can make community orders including community work orders, day reporting orders or mandatory treatment orders.
Under the POHA, there are also civil remedies for victims of harassment. These remedies can be divided into:
- Final orders, which are made by the PHC upon the conclusion of the trial; and
- Interim orders, which are made by the PHC while the case is still ongoing.
Interim orders are granted if urgent relief is needed even before the trial has concluded e.g. if the acts of harassment continue to be committed while the case is ongoing.
The available civil remedies have been summarised in the table below.
|Civil Remedies for Victims of Harassment|
|Final Orders||Corresponding Interim Orders|
|Protection Orders (PO)
An order for the harasser to stop harassing the victim.
|Expedited Protection Orders (EPO)
A temporary order for the harasser to stop harassing the victim. It is granted when urgent intervention is needed.
|Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)
An order that requires the harasser to undergo psychiatric treatment.
|Monetary Compensation / Damages
An order for the harasser to financially compensate the victim.
How to File a Claim in the Protection From Harassment Court in Singapore
In the PHC, the manner in which you should file your claim depends on whether you are seeking civil remedies or criminal sanctions.
If you are seeking criminal sanctions, the first thing you should do is file a police report against your harasser. The police will then review the details provided and determine whether to investigate the matter following the report.
After their investigation, they will then decide whether to notify the Public Prosecutor of the matter and recommend prosecution of the harasser. If the Public Prosecutor is informed, the case will be brought before the PHC.
However, if the police decide not to investigate further, or come to the decision that the matter should not be referred to the Public Prosecutor for prosecution, you may still pursue criminal sanctions by filing a Magistrate’s Complaint against your harasser.
To file a Magistrate’s Complaint, you will need to complete a Magistrate’s Complaint form via this online portal, and prepare supporting documents such as your NRIC or passport and a copy of the police report.
You should also prepare other documents that would be relevant to your complaint, such as copies of messages by the harasser and screenshots of the offending posts.
Finally, you have to pay a non-refundable filing fee of $20 before your complaint is examined.
If you are seeking civil remedies at the PHC instead, you can file your claims using either the simplified proceedings or the standard proceedings, depending on which process your claim falls under.
In general, civil claims under the POHA can be brought under the simplified proceedings unless the claim falls under one of the following four exceptions:
- Your claim is for damages of more than $20,000;
- Your claim is being brought against more than 5 respondents (respondents are the persons against whom the complaint is made, i.e. the alleged harasser(s));
- Your claim is being brought together with a co-claimant; or
- You are bringing a claim in respect of an incident that happened more than 2 years ago (e.g. the incidents of harassment occurred in 2017 but you wish to file a claim in 2021).
If one or more of the above categories apply to your claim, you will then have to file your claim using the standard proceedings.
Under the simplified proceedings, you must file your claim online using the Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS) with the necessary documents to support your claim. After you upload your documents on the portal, you will be required to pay the filing fees applicable to your claim.
The applicable filing fees can be found at the First Schedule of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Protection from Harassment) Rules here. Upon receipt of your payment, your claim is considered to have been filed and will be processed.
Under the standard proceedings, the procedure differs slightly yet again depending on whether you are applying for monetary compensation, or for a court order. If you are applying for a court order, you must prepare an originating application together with a supporting affidavit and any other supporting documents. These documents have to be filed through the eLitigation website and you may do so at the CrimsonLogic Service Bureau if you do not have a lawyer.
On the other hand, if you are suing for monetary compensation, you must file an originating claim instead of an originating application.
What Happens After You File a Claim in the Protection From Harassment Court
If you are seeking criminal sanctions and the Public Prosecutor decides to prosecute as mentioned above, the Public Prosecutor will take over the case from then on.
However, if you are filing a Magistrate’s Complaint, the Magistrate will hear your application, and may decide to:
- Issue a Notice to both yourself and the respondent for criminal mediation;
- Issue a Summons for you to appear in court against the respondent;
- Direct the police to conduct an investigation; or
- Dismiss the complaint.
Depending on what the Magistrate directs parties to do, you may have to attend criminal mediation, or serve the Summons on the respondent as relevant.
If you serve the Summons on the respondent, the case will proceed to the hearing, and the respondent will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
If the respondent pleads guilty, the case will proceed to sentencing. If the respondent pleads not guilty, the case will proceed to trial, and you will have to provide evidence in court to prove your case. The court will then reach an outcome as to whether the respondent is guilty of the offence complained of.
Under the simplified proceedings, after filing a claim in the PHC, you can decide if you would like to undergo eNegotiation, an optional attempt to settle the dispute between yourself and the respondent, or if you would like to proceed with the Case Management Conference (CMC).
The CMC is a meeting between the parties and the Registrar, who will make orders and give directions to the parties on how to move forward, e.g. through mediation or counselling, and fix the matter for hearing.
Even if you choose eNegotiation, you can always choose to proceed with the claim if the negotiations are unsuccessful. If the negotiations are successful, you can then opt to withdraw the claim.
To proceed with the claim, you must complete the following steps:
- Serve the originating application and supporting evidence on the respondent within 14 days after the filing.
- File a Declaration of Service in CJTS within 8 days of serving your documents on the respondent.
- Attend the CMC on the specified date and time with your NRIC and one set of your claim, the respondent’s response and any supporting evidence.
- During the CMC, the court may order both parties to attend mediation or counselling, schedule a further CMC or fix a hearing date.
- If a hearing date is fixed, you will then attend the hearing on the specified date and time. During the hearing, the court will listen to both parties’ cases and decide the outcome of the case, including whether any orders should be made.
The PHC will aim to conduct hearings for applications for Protection Orders within 4 weeks of the application, or within 48-72 hours of applications for Expedited Protection Orders.
For cases involving an element of violence, the PHC will try to expedite the application to be heard within 24 hours.
What Can You Do If the Harasser Breaches Any Orders Granted to You By the Protection From Harassment Court?
If you have been granted a Protection Order or Expedited Protection Order against the harasser and he/she breaches that order, he/she is actually committing an additional offence under the POHA. In that case, you may file a police report against your harasser.
For contravening an order by the court, the harasser would be liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.
The PHC consolidates all criminal and civil matters under the POHA at place, with simplified proceedings for certain applications for civil remedies.
For such simplified proceedings, you will be able to file your claim even without a lawyer. However, you should still consider consulting a harassment lawyer if you need help with your matter.
The lawyer will be able to advise you on the strength of your claim as well as the remedies or sanctions that you should seek in your application.
Additionally, the lawyer will be able to support you during the filing and post-filing process, such as by advising you on what supporting evidence would be needed for your claim, or even representing you during the hearing if the claim gets to that stage.