Unfortunately, violence within families does happen in Singapore, just as in every other country in the world. Each year, both men and women are protected from such domestic violence by the law and courts of Singapore, which try to ensure that nobody has to live with the threat of abuse at home.
The court has power under section 65 of the Women’s Charter to issue personal protection orders (PPOs) which effectively restrain the person who is the subject of them from using violence against a family member. These protection orders are granted if:
- The court believes that family violence was—or is likely to be—committed against a family member, on the balance of probabilities
- The court believes the order is needed to protect a family member.
“Family violence” – a definition
Carrying out any of the following acts under section 64 of the Women’s Charter will be defined as “family violence”:
- Wilfully putting a family member in fear of hurt, or attempting to do so,
- Causing hurt to a family member by committing an act which they knew (or ought to have known) would result in such hurt to the family member,
- Wrongfully restraining/confining a family member against their will,
- Intentionally, continuously harassing a family member to cause anguish, or knowing that anguish was likely to be caused.
Note that the definition of family violence does not include lawful actions taken to defend oneself, or any force used to correct a child under the age of 21.
Who can apply for a protection order?
You can be protected under a PPO if you are:
- Older than 21 years and not incapacitated. You may apply for an order to protect either your children (if under 21 years old) or yourself.
- A relative, guardian or responsible person involved in the care of a family member who is being abused, provided that person is younger than 21 or is incapacitated.
- A person appointed by a Minister in the case of a family member who is younger than 21 years of age, or is incapacitated.
- Not yet 21 and are married or have previously been married.
Which family members can be protected under an order?
A family member is defined under section 64 of the charter as:
- Your child (including step children or adopted children)
- Your spouse or previous spouse
- Your mother or father
- Your mother-in-law or father-in-law
- Your sister or brother
- Another relative, who the court believes should be treated as a member of your family.
How to apply for a protection order
A PPO application can be filed at any Family Violence Service Centre. You should, where possible, include medical or police reports to back up your claim. You can also apply directly to the Family Justice Court, at their Family Protection Centre.
A judge will review the filed application and issue a summons to the respondent, i.e. the person who the order will be against, and the summons will be served on the respondent by the court’s process server.
Both you and the respondent must appear in court on the date appointed, but if you are reluctant to do this, then you can let the staff at the Family Protection centre know. They can then arrange for you to attend court virtually, via video link.
After this, the case continues through the court system, potentially ending in a full hearing. However, it is possible to settle the case before that, if both parties consent, and no hearing is needed.
However, where the defendant doesn’t agree with the order, then there will be a court hearing. Here, the judge will weigh up the strength of evidence on both sides, and consider witness evidence. Then they will decide whether to grant a protection order. It is not possible to attend the hearing via video link, however.
Be aware that getting a protection order can take some time – perhaps as long as 3 to 5 months.
Where a defendant does not turn up for their court appearance, an arrest warrant will be issued by the court. If an applicant doesn’t turn up, then the application will be struck out.
Different types of protection orders
There are several different types of protection orders that the court can grant. A personal protection order is most often used, but there are also domestic exclusion orders, expedited orders and counselling orders.
Specific provisions can also be included in personal protection orders, such as preventing the person named from inciting or helping someone else to commit violence against the protected person.
These are used according to section 66(1), when the court believes there is an immediate danger of family violence against the person applying for the order. It is a temporary, urgent order used when someone has applied for a personal protection order but needs action now, rather than waiting for the order to be granted.
No trial is necessary, but the judge must be sure that there is a real and imminent threat of violence against the applicant, who must affirm or swear on the application. The order usually lasts 28 days, unless extended by the court.
Domestic exclusion order
Under section 65(5)(a), a court has the power to exclude the respondent from all, or part, of a shared residence. They can also exclude the respondent from coming within a certain distance of the applicant in a public place.
Section 65(5)(b) gives the court power to compel the parties to attend counselling sessions at a family support agency. Children may sometimes be included in this order, too. Often, this sort of counselling order will be issued at the same time as a personal protection order, with a date set to review progress made.
How long does a PPO last?
The court decides on an appropriate duration for the order based on the circumstances of each applicant. There is no fixed term.
Personal protection orders may also be varied, suspended or revoked by the court, on successful application by either of the parties involved.
For example, if the complainant and the respondent solve their relationship differences, and the complainant feels there is no need for the order to protect them, then they can apply for the court to revoke it. A complainant could also ask to have the order suspended, if they don’t feel ready to have it completely revoked. Applications can also be made to make orders more lenient or stricter.
What if the family member ignores the order?
If the family member doesn’t comply with the order, then they are committing a criminal offence, and will face a fine of up to S$2,000 or six months in prison, or both. If they repeatedly break orders, then the penalties are higher, up to S$5,000 or a year in jail, or both.
If you are aware of a family member breaking the order, you should first tell the police as soon as you can. They will investigate your allegation, and decide whether or not to charge the person.
Can a court’s decision on an order be appealed?
Yes – you can file a notice of appeal to a judge in the Family Division of the High Court within 14 days of the court’s decision. However, you must pay a sum of money which acts as security for the other party’s costs, in the event that your appeal does not succeed.
Other options for protection
In some situations, people need protection for non-physical harm, for example harassment, unlawful stalking or verbal abuse. If that is the case, then a protection from harassment order is the best course of action. Such an order can be taken out against both family and non-family members, for any conduct relating to harassment.
Remember that “family violence” does not always mean physical violence. For instance, if you are living in fear of violence, or are being kept or treated like a prisoner by a family member, then you can also take legal action to protect yourself.
Although the law in Singapore is designed to protect all victims of family violence of every kind, obtaining a protection order can be a complex process. You might find that speaking to a lawyer helps, as they can review your circumstances and tell you what the best evidence would be for you to give the court. They can also help you prepare for cross-examination in court.
The lawyer will help you understand the law, and help you and your children (if any) to be protected from harm. Having a lawyer present in court with you when you have to face the respondent may also give you strength and reassurance.