Dedicated court for harassment cases to begin operations this year

A total of 853 applications for protection orders were made as at Dec 31 last year, Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong told Parliament, adding that a dedicated Protection from Harassment Court will start operations this year.

He noted that the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into force in 2014, has been strengthened over the years to include new offences, such as doxxing, which is the act of making public someone's private personal information.

The 853 applications include those by victims of sexual and workplace harassment, online harassment and harassment by neighbours. Of the total, 348 protection orders were granted, while 135 cases were sent for mediation.

And 366 expedited protection orders were granted, providing interim relief to the applicants. This means the courts granted almost immediate relief in more than two out of every five cases, noted Mr Tong.

The remaining applications were withdrawn, dismissed or still pending resolution.

"Data based on types of harassment is currently not available, but the State Courts are looking into enhancing the case management system to capture and track such data," he said.

As at Dec 31 last year, there were 29 cases of doxxing filed in the State Courts, he said.

Mr Tong said the new court will be staffed by judges specifically trained to deal with harassment matters. Volunteers will be present to help victims through the court process.

Mr Tong also noted the rise in feedback on neighbourly nuisance in the past year, possibly due to more people staying at home during the circuit breaker.

"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.

He urged people to use community mediation, adding that more than 80 per cent of cases mediated at the Community Mediation Centre reached an amicable settlement.

But there are cases that still go to the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal, and Mr Tong said it "should continue to be the avenue of last resort".

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.