Family violence is unfortunately not unheard of in Singapore. Every year many women and men approach the courts for protection. If you live with family violence, you should know that Singapore law protects victims of domestic violence.
Section 65 of the Women’s Charter gives the court the power to make protection orders restraining the person against whom the order is made from using family violence against a family member.
The court will grant a protection order if it is satisfied:
- on a balance of probabilities, that family violence was committed or is likely to be committed against a family member; and
- it is necessary for the protection of the family member.
What is “family violence”?
Section 64 defines “family violence” as the commission of any of the following acts:
- wilfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, a family member in fear of hurt;
- causing hurt to a family member by such act which is known or ought to have been known would result in hurt;
- wrongfully confining or restraining a family member against his will; or
- causing continual harassment with intent to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause anguish to a family member.
It does not include lawful actions used in self-defence or force used by way of correction towards a child below 21 years old.
Who can apply for a protection order?
You can apply for a protection order if you are:
- Not an incapacitated person and older than 21 years old. You can apply for an order to protect yourself or your children under 21 years old.
- A guardian, relative or a person responsible for the care of the family member concerned if that family member is below 21 years old or is an incapacitated person.
- A person appointed by the Minister if the family member is below 21 years old or is an incapacitated person.
- Younger than 21 years old and married or was married before.
Who are “family members” against whom you can get a protection order?
Sec 64 of the Charter defines a “family member” as:
- your spouse or former spouse;
- your child, including an adopted child and a step-child;
- your father or mother;
- your father-in-law or mother-in-law;
- a brother or sister; or
- any other relative, who in the opinion of the court should be regarded as a member of your family.
How do you apply for a protection order?
You can approach any of the Family Violence Service Centres to file a personal protection order application. If possible, include a police report or medical records to support your claim. Alternatively, you can apply directly at the Family Protection Centre of the Family Justice Courts.
Once the application is filed, a judge will review it and issue a summons to the respondent (the person against whom the order is asked for). The court’s process server will serve the summons on the respondent.
You and the respondent will have to appear in court on the date of the first mention.
If you are afraid to see the respondent in court, inform a counsellor or the Family Protection Centre staff. You can attend court mentions via video from a different location.
The matter will then proceed through the court system and might end up with a full hearing in court. The matter can, however, be settled with the consent of both parties without a full hearing.
If the respondent does not agree to a protection order, the matter will proceed to a court hearing. At the hearing, the judge will consider the merits of each sides evidence and witnesses before deciding whether to issue a personal protection order. Unfortunately, you cannot attend the hearing via video.
Personal protection proceedings can be lengthy, and you might only get an order after 3-5 months.
If the respondent fails to show up on a court date, the court will issue an arrest warrant against them. If the applicant fails to appear, the application will be struck out.
Are there different types of protection orders?
Yes, there is a range of orders that the court will consider.
A personal protection order is the most common one. The court may also grant expedited orders, domestic exclusion orders or counselling orders.
When the court makes a personal protection order, it may include specific provisions. For example, the person against whom the order is made may not incite or assist anyone else in committing family violence against the protected person.
Suppose the court is satisfied that there is imminent danger of family violence against the applicant. In that case, the court may grant an expedited order under sec 66(1).
An expedited order is a temporary and urgent protection order when an application for a personal protection order is filed, but the court is satisfied that urgent action is needed. The order is granted without a trial due to the urgency for protection. The judge must be satisfied of a prima facie case of violence against the applicant after the applicant affirms or swears on the application.
An expedited order usually lasts for 28 days unless the court extends the order.
Domestic exclusion order
The court may make a domestic exclusion order under sec 65(5)(a) excluding the person against whom the order is made from the shared residence. The respondent can be excluded from all or a part of the residence shared with the family member. The respondent may also be excluded from coming into a certain distance of a public place near the applicant.
The court may order the parties under sec 65(5)(b) to attend counselling at a family support agency. The court may include the children in the counselling order.
Usually, the court will make the counselling order at the same time as a personal protection order. The court will set a date to review the progress made during counselling.
For how long does a protection order protect you?
A personal protection order does not have a fixed term. The court will decide an appropriate duration based on the facts of your case.
The court may also vary, suspend, or revoke a personal protection order on application from either the applicant or the respondent. Suppose you and the respondent fix your relationship, and you feel that you no longer need the order to protect you. In that case, you can apply to the court to revoke the order altogether. Alternatively, you can apply to have the protection order suspended if you are not ready to have it completely revoked.
You may also apply to the court to vary the terms of the order to be more lenient or stricter.
If you’re unhappy with the outcome of your application, what can you do?
If you are unhappy with the outcome, you can file a Notice of Appeal to a judge in the Family Division of the High Court within 14 days from the court’s decision. You will, however, must pay an amount of money as security for the other party’s costs if your appeal is unsuccessful.
What can you do if the family member ignores the order?
A breach of a protection order is a criminal offence. If found guilty, the offender can be fined up to S$2000 or six months in prison or both. For a repeat offence, the penalty is S$5000 or up to 12 months in jail or both.
If the family member disobeys the order, you should report it to the police as soon as possible. The police will investigate your complaint and decide whether the offender should be charged or not.
Do you have any other options for protection?
Sometimes you may need protection from harassment, verbal abuse or unlawful stalking, not necessarily physical violence from a family member. In such cases, you can apply for a protection from harassment order. This type of order is available against family and non-family members for harassment-related conduct.
Family violence does not necessarily mean a physical act of violence. Suppose you are living in fear of violence or are being confined or harassed by a family member. In that case, you should take action to protect yourself or your children as soon as possible.
Singapore law protects victims against family violence. Yet, obtaining a protection order is not always straightforward. You may want to consult with a lawyer to assist with your case. A lawyer can review your case and advise on the best evidence to present and help prepare you for cross-examination.
An experienced lawyer will explain the law and help you protect yourself and your children against family violence. Your lawyer will also be with you in court when you have to face the respondent.