Budget 2014: Legal redress for harassment victims to be easy, inexpensive

Budget 2014: Legal redress for harassment victims to be easy, inexpensive
Mr Shanmugam believes the multifaceted approach has worked to "really push them up", but stressed the importance of upgrading their skills.

PARLIAMENT

THE new law against harassment has been crafted specially to make it quick, easy and inexpensive for victims to seek legal redress, Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament on Thursday. Victims, for instance, should not need to engage lawyers to get protection orders to make the harassment stop.

Police officers will also be trained on the application of the law, which Parliament passed yesterday. That includes how to assess and investigate cases and breaches of protection orders.

The minister was replying to MPs' concerns that the law, while strong on paper, will be difficult to enforce.

There are several key facets to the Protection from Harassment Bill, which was the subject of a four-hour debate yesterday.

It makes stalking an offence for the first time and also expressly proscribes cyber harassment, hitherto a grey area in the law. Second, it covers a wide range of antisocial behaviour, from bullying in schools to workplace harassment.

Third, it increases penalties and introduces jail terms for existing harassment offences.

Fourth - and crucially for victims - it offers a range of "self-help" options which a victim can use to try to stop the harassment. These include applying to the courts for protection orders against the perpetrators, requiring their actions to stop.

Those who are the targets of false and malicious online content can similarly get orders requiring the content to be taken down and for correction notifications to be published in their place. Victims can also sue perpetrators for civil damages.

Finally, the Bill can also extend the long arm of the law overseas as long as the victim or the perpetrator is in Singapore when the offences are committed.

Fifteen MPs rose to speak on the Bill. While all supported its spirit, many warned of the gap between principle and practice.

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