The Protection from Harassment Act 2014 (the “Act”) came into effect on 15 November 2014 and abolishes the common law tort of harassment. No civil proceedings can be brought for harassment except under the Act. The Act protects persons against harassment and unlawful stalking.
The Act provides guidance as to what amounts to harassment and unlawful stalking, and offers a range of self-help measures, civil remedies and criminal sanctions to protect individuals against harassment and related anti-social behaviour. It also includes illustrations that describe situations of sexual harassment, cyber-bullying and bullying of children, for greater clarity.
Expanded re-enacted offences and defences
The Act extends the scope of the existing laws under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (the “MOA”). Sections 13A to 13D of the MOA have been re-enacted in the Act with modifications so as to extend to words, behaviour or communication used or made by “any means”, which include electronic means.
The previous sections 13A to 13D of the MOA criminalised harassment and the threat or provocation of violence. These measures are re-enacted and retained in the Act. Specifically, the offence in section 13A of the MOA relating to “intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress” is re-enacted. A defence is carved out under the Act for the accused person to prove that his conduct was reasonable.
Section 13B of the MOA relating to “harassment, alarm or distress” is re-enacted. Unlike section 13A, the accused person need not intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress. In addition to the defence of reasonable conduct, it is also a defence for the accused to prove that he had no reason to believe that the words, behaviour or communication would be heard, seen or otherwise perceived by the victim as such.
Section 13C of the MOA relating to “fear or provocation of violence” is re-enacted with changes to clarify the meaning of the provision. The defences of reasonable conduct and reasonable belief as stated above apply.
The previous section 13D of the MOA protected public servants from harassment encountered when exercising their duties. The Act extends this protection to public service workers, which is defined in that section. The prescribed classes of employees and workers, and the services provided in this regard, are set out at length in the Protection from Harassment (Public Service Worker) Order 2014. The accused person must know or ought reasonably to know that the public servant or public service worker was acting in that capacity. Intention or actual constructive knowledge of the likely effects of the accused person’s conduct is not required.
The Act creates the new offence of unlawful stalking, which entails a “course of conduct” which causes harassment, alarm or distress to the victim. Harassment, alarm or distress must be intended or at least known or ought to be known to be likely. The Act provides a list of factors which a court must consider in deciding whether the offence of unlawful stalking has been committed, including the number of occasions, frequency and duration of the acts or omissions, and the likely effects the course of conduct will have on the victim’s safety, health, reputation, economic position or his freedom to do any act which he is legally entitled to do or not legally bound to do. The Act provides illustrations of acts or omissions associated with unlawful stalking.
Contravention of the prohibition against unlawful stalking attracts on conviction a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or both.
The Act provides defences to which the accused person may avail himself, including proving that the course of conduct was reasonable in all the circumstances, or was lawfully done under a duty or power under any written law for the purpose of preventing or detecting a crime.
Penalties have been increased in the Act to reflect the seriousness of the harassing conduct, and enhanced penalties are provided for repeat offenders.
There is a statutory right to bring an action for damages in civil proceedings for a contravention of certain provisions of the Act.
A victim of harassment may also apply to the courts for Protection Orders against harassers, requiring the harasser to desist from doing anything as specified in the Order. The District Court may order, amongst other things, that no person is to publish or continue to publish the offending communication. Such Order is not effective until it has been served, or service has been dispensed with, or if a later date is specified. The victim or any person to whom the Protection Order applies may apply to vary, suspend, cancel or extend it.
The District Court is also empowered to make an expedited Protection Order.
It should be noted that there are persons who are exempt from having a Protection Order or an expedited Protection Order made against them. The Protection from Harassment (Exempt Class of Persons) Order 2014 provides, inter alia, that every person who is in the business of providing the following services is exempt from Protection Orders under the Act:
- making available or operating any facility for network access,
- making available any service relation to, or providing connections for, the transmission or routing of data, and
- displaying an index of search results to an end-user who uses the service to make an online search.
Where a false statement of fact about a person has been published, the court can direct a notification to be published which alerts readers that the facts are false and brings attention to the true facts.
In light of the ease with which acts of harassment may be committed via electronic / online means, the Act empowers Singapore courts to try certain offences under the Act where the offence was committed outside Singapore if:
- the victim was in Singapore when any of the acts or omissions associated with unlawful stalking, or when the use of the words or behaviour or the making of the communication caused the victim harassment, alarm or distress;
- the victim was in Singapore when the victim heard, saw or perceived the words, behaviour or communication; or
- the accused person knew or had reason to believe that the victim was or would be in Singapore.
Accused persons who are in Singapore and who commit certain offences under the Act against victims who are outside Singapore will also be caught by the Act.
The full text of the Protection from Harassment Act 2014 is available from the Singapore Statutes Online website http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/home.w3p.