Ministry of Social and Family Development
- Consultation Period:
- 06 Apr 2022 - 30 Apr 2022
- Closed - Summary of Responses
SUMMARY OF FEEDBACK FROM PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON
FAMILY VIOLENCE LEGISLATION
1The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) sought public feedback from 6 to 30 April 2022 on the proposed family violence (FV)-related amendments to the Women’s Charter. MSF received over 60 written responses from the public, including FV survivors, their relatives, and friends, and FV perpetrators. This was in addition to the stakeholders that MSF had engaged as part of the Taskforce on Family Violence’s work, including Family Service Centres, Protection Specialist Centres, crisis shelters, healthcare workers, and lawyers.
2There was strong support from stakeholders and members of the public (‘contributors’) for the key amendments proposed for the Women’s Charter (Family Violence and Other Matters) (Amendment) Bill (“FV Amendment Bill”). MSF received many good suggestions and contributions, some of which have been included in the Bill. The key feedback and MSF’s responses are summarised below.
Strengthen protection for survivors of family violence
3Personal Protection Orders (PPOs) applications by MSF. Contributors supported the proposal to empower the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW) and Protectors to make PPO applications on behalf of survivors for their safety, but suggested making clear for whom and when such powers could be invoked, to ensure proper exercise of this power. MSF agrees that such powers should be exercised prudently and only in situations where the survivor’s safety is threatened but he/she is unwilling to apply for a PPO.
4Additional rehabilitative provisions. The majority of the contributors agreed with the proposal to expand the type of additional provisions the Court might make when issuing a PPO to prohibit perpetrators of FV from being in a designated area at certain times or from visiting or communicating with the survivor. To address contributors’ feedback that ‘non-access’, ‘non-communication’ and ‘non-visitation’ orders may be confused with child access arrangements, the proposed provisions will be known as No Contact and Stay Away provisions in the Bill. Additionally, contributors welcomed the proposal for the Court to issue a Mandatory Treatment provision to rehabilitate perpetrators of FV and suggested that the Court receive expert assistance when issuing such provisions. The Bill will make clear that the Court must seek formal assessment by an appointed psychiatrist to certify the perpetrator’s condition, treatability, and relevance to the violence before the Mandatory Treatment provision is issued.
5Emergency Orders (EOR) for high-risk FV cases. Contributors supported the introduction of time-limited protection notices to be issued at the scene to perpetrators where there is a risk of immediate harm to the survivor, with some highlighting the need for proper safeguards, including how and when such notices could be issued. Some suggested that cases under such protection orders be brought urgently before the Court for a Court order to be issued.
6MSF agrees with the suggestions. To emphasise the seriousness of the matter, the notice will be called an Emergency Order in the Bill, and the power to issue EORs will be limited to the Protectors who must be satisfied that the perpetrator is likely to commit FV within the next 14 days, and that an EOR is necessary to protect the survivor before he/she applies for a PPO or Expedited Order.
7MSF intends to empower Protectors in its 24-hour Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team (DVERT) to issue the EOR. The DVERT will respond jointly with the Police to domestic violence cases with immediate safety concerns.
8Protection of FV survivor’s identity. Most contributors supported the proposal to prohibit the publication or broadcast of identifiable information or pictures of FV cases to avoid re-traumatising the survivor, and to empower the Court to order the removal of such information. However, some felt that survivors should be empowered to give their consent for such publications as this could help raise awareness on FV or deter potential perpetrators. MSF has considered the feedback. To protect the survivor’s privacy and to provide him/her time to recover and focus on repairing their familial relationships as necessary, the amendment will prohibit the publication or broadcast of identifiable information, unless with the survivor’s consent and the DGSW’s approval.
9Some contributors suggested that the perpetrator should be named for deterrence. However, others noted that doing so would lead to the identification of the survivor. As the intent is to rehabilitate the perpetrator, and help the family heal, the Bill would protect the identities of survivors, and by extension, all identifying information in relation to the survivor, including the perpetrator’s name, for the family’s privacy, unless with the survivor’s consent and the DGSW’s approval.
Enhance accountability and strengthen rehabilitation of perpetrators of FV
10Counselling must be completed before a PPO can be revoked. Most contributors viewed counselling as helpful in the recovery and healing process and emphasised the responsibility the perpetrator has in the rehabilitation process. The majority agreed that PPOs should not be revoked before the perpetrator has completed the court-ordered counselling, with a few commenting that survivors ought to complete the counselling as well. Some suggested that revocation without completion of counselling be considered in exceptional circumstances, based on the assessment by MSF or social service professionals. Others suggested that the Court conduct the necessary assessments before deciding if a PPO should be revoked and that applications to revoke PPOs should only be made by social service professionals and not survivors, as these professionals would have a more objective view of the family situation. A few contributors felt that severe or prolonged medical illness or loss of mental capacity could be considered as an exceptional circumstance to apply to revoke a PPO when the counselling has not been completed.
11MSF agrees with the majority of contributors that revocation of a PPO should not be made before the counselling is completed. The Bill will make clear that before a PPO can be revoked – and if a Counselling provision was issued to the perpetrator – the Court must consider any assessment by the relevant counselling agency, and if there has been any change to the circumstances which necessitated the PPO. The Court can disregard an application for a PPO revocation if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the survivor’s consent to the application was not voluntarily given. MSF will also be proposing a maximum duration of 36 months for a Counselling provision, before such orders are automatically discharged.
12Stronger enforcement against breaches. Contributors strongly supported the proposal to strengthen the enforcement approach. Many felt that criminalising breaches of Court orders or provisions was necessary to hold perpetrators accountable, deter them from committing further FV, and ensure that they complete their rehabilitation programme. Some suggested that penalties imposed should be proportionate to the offence, with only the most serious breaches requiring imprisonment. A few viewed the criminalisation of breaches of counselling as too harsh, if there was no likelihood of harm arising from the breach. MSF takes a strong stance against violence. Under the Bill, penalties for breaches of Court orders and provisions will be increased, breaches of the new Court orders will be an arrestable offence and breaches of the Counselling provision, assessment order for the purpose of mandatory treatment and Mandatory Treatment provision will be a fine.
13Replace “mental defective” with “mental impairment”. All contributors supported the removal of the term “mental defective” and felt that the new term should encompass more vulnerable persons who lacked the ability to give informed consent. MSF agrees and will replace the term with “mental impairment” and define it clearly in the Bill.
14Explore enacting a standalone ‘Domestic Violence Act’’. Contributors felt that every individual should be protected under the Women’s Charter. Some proposed creating a new Domestic Violence Act with the definition of ‘family member’ expanded to include unmarried persons or intimate partners who might not live in the same household. MSF is prepared to consider the possibility of enacting a standalone Domestic Violence Act in the future.
15Public Education. Some contributors suggested raising awareness of emotional and psychological abuse. MSF had launched the refreshed “Break the Silence” campaign in November 2021 with a greater focus on building awareness of the different types of abuse, and to educate the public on what to do if they encounter domestic violence. MSF will continue to expand our public education and outreach efforts.
16MSF would like to thank all stakeholders and members of the public who gave feedback on the proposed amendments. If passed in Parliament, the FV Amendment Bill will strengthen Singapore’s legislative framework to better protect survivors of FV and enhance accountability and rehabilitation of perpetrators of FV.
Public Consultation On Women’s Charter Amendments In Relation To Family Violence
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) invites the public to give feedback on the proposed amendments to the Women’s Charter in relation to family violence.
2Family violence has a serious impact on the lives of individuals and families who experience it. Over the years, MSF and our partners across the people, private, and public sectors have stepped up efforts to tackle family violence in Singapore, including (a) raising public awareness of family violence and that everyone can play a part in identifying signs of violence and help survivors seek the support they need, (b) providing social service support to individuals and families experiencing violence, and (c) putting in place legal protections for survivors.
3In particular, the Women’s Charter 1961 provides legal protections for any person, regardless of gender, who experience family violence. These persons may apply for Personal Protection Orders (PPOs) or expedited ordersi to protect themselves from family members who have committed or are likely to commit violence against them. The PPOs restrain perpetrators from committing further family violence towards the survivors (i.e. PPO applicants). The Family Justice Courts may also make other additional orders together with these PPOs, including domestic exclusion orders requiring the perpetrator of violence to be excluded from parts of, or the whole shared residence, and counselling orders for both the survivor and/or perpetrator of family violence.
4In 2020 and 2021, the multi-stakeholder Taskforce on Family Violenceii (“Taskforce”) engaged a wide range of stakeholders to understand how survivors can be better protected from family violence and how perpetrators can be held more accountable for their behaviours and be better rehabilitated to prevent violence from recurring. In September 2021, the Taskforce released a report with 16 recommendations. The Government has accepted, in principle, all the Taskforce’s recommendations in October 2021, and is progressively implementing them.
5In line with the Taskforce’s recommendations, MSF is proposing amendments to the Women’s Charter to enhance legal protections against family violence. These proposed amendments incorporate the comprehensive feedback from various stakeholders, including social service agency partners (e.g. Family Violence Specialist Centres, Family Service Centres, crisis shelters), non-Governmental organisations, the Courts, hospitals, and Government agencies. MSF also plans to make other amendments to the Women’s Charter to better protect women and girls.
6The key amendments to the Women’s Charter are categorised as follows:
a. Strengthen protection for survivors of family violence;
b. Enhance accountability and strengthen rehabilitation of perpetrators of family violence; and
c. Other amendments, including amendments to enhance the protection for women and girls under 21 years who are under the protection of the Director-General of Social Welfare.
See Annex for the detailed list of proposed amendments.
7MSF seeks feedback from members of the public on the following proposed amendments:
A. Strengthen protection for survivors of family violence
Prohibit publication of identifiable information for family violence cases and to provide for takedown orders to remove such prohibited publications.
8Currently, there is no restriction on the publication of information that could lead to the identification of a person who has experienced or perpetrated family violence. MSF plans to protect the privacy of specific individuals experiencing family violence, to provide them time to recover and focus on repairing their relationships as necessary. This will include persons who receive social service emergency response, persons who are issued the proposed time-limited protection notice, and persons with ongoing PPO applications.
9MSF intends to prohibit publications or broadcasts of any information or picture that identifies, or is likely to identify, these specific individuals as a person experiencing or perpetrating family violence, unless the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW) had given prior approval to the publication or broadcast (for cases where DGSW intervenes) or the PPO applicant had consented to the publications or broadcasts (for cases where DGSW does not intervene). MSF also plans to empower the Family Court to hear applications for and grant “takedown orders” to request the removal of any unauthorised publications and broadcasts for family violence cases.
10MSF seeks feedback whether to prohibit the publication or broadcast of such information in relation to persons experiencing family violence, and whether there should be any other exceptions to this prohibition.
B. Enhance accountability and strengthen rehabilitation of perpetrators of family violence
Disallow applications for the revocation of PPOs where the counselling order has not been completed.
11Presently, persons (either the PPO applicant or PPO respondent [i.e. the person whom a PPO or an expedited order is made]) may apply to revoke the PPO at any point. In line with the efforts to strengthen rehabilitation of perpetrators of family violence, MSF plans to amend the Women’s Charter to disallow any application to revoke a PPO until the counselling order has been completed. This is intended to ensure that parties to a PPO (both the applicant and the respondent) receive the necessary rehabilitation before revocations are considered.
12MSF seeks feedback on whether there are exceptional cases for which applications to revoke PPOs should be allowed even if the counselling order had not been completed.
Take a strong enforcement approach against breaches of counselling orders and the proposed mandatory assessment and treatment orders.
13Presently, the Court may require the survivor, perpetrator of family violence and/or their children to attend mandatory counselling. In line with the Taskforce’s recommendations, MSF intends to also introduce the mandatory assessment and treatment orders for perpetrators with treatable mental conditions that contributed to or exacerbate the risk of occurrence of family violence.
14Presently, persons who fail to comply with counselling orders made with a PPO are not subject to enforcement action. Instead, the PPO applicant will need to initiate legal committal proceedings in order to take the PPO respondentiii to task for failing to comply with the counselling order.
15The Taskforce recommended that the Government explore enhancing the enforcement approach for the breaches of counselling orders and putting in place a strong enforcement approach for breaches of the proposed mandatory assessment and treatment orders, to ensure that perpetrators take these orders seriously. Nonetheless, stakeholders had a range of views on the enforcement approach to take. Some stakeholders suggested that breaches of counselling orders and mandatory assessment and treatment orders by the PPO respondent should be made a criminal offence (i.e. perpetrator who breached such orders could be charged in Court and made to pay a fine and/or serve a prison sentence).
16MSF seeks feedback whether breaches of the counselling orders and/or the proposed mandatory assessment and treatment orders by the PPO respondent should be made a criminal offence.
C. Other amendments
17Section 144 of the Women’s Charter, which was introduced in 1980, uses the term “mental defective”. MSF recognises that the term is archaic and unacceptable in today’s context, and plans to amend Section 144 to replace it with a more appropriate term or description. MSF welcomes public feedback regarding a more appropriate term or description to be used.
18MSF invites members of the public to share your views on the proposals to better protect survivors of family violence, and to enhance accountability and rehabilitation of perpetrators of family violence. You may do so via this link: https://go.gov.sg/womens-charter-2022 from 6 Apr to 30 Apr 2022.
19We encourage all respondents to share your background or experience in relation to family violence, and provide data, reasons or examples to help us better understand your views. Do also provide your name and the organisation you represent (if any), to allow us to follow up with you where relevant. We assure you that all views will be non-attributable, unless consent is given.
20The full list of legislative proposals is in the Annex. MSF will publish a summary of the key feedback received and MSF’s responses on this website, when ready.
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT
6 APRIL 2022
i An expedited order is a form of temporary PPO which is issued when an applicant files for a PPO application, and the Judge finds that there is imminent danger of violence being committed.
ii The multi-stakeholder Taskforce on Family Violence was co-chaired by the Minister of State for the Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Education, Ms Sun Xueling, and the Minister of State for the Minister of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development, Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim. In September 2021, the Taskforce released a set of 16 recommendations on improving immediate support for survivors of family violence, enhancing protection for them, preventing violence from recurring and raising awareness of early warning signs. The report can be found at https://go.gov.sg/taskforce-on-family-violence-report.
iii “PPO respondent” refers to the family member for whom a PPO application was made against. PPO applicants apply for PPOs to protect themselves from family violence by the PPO respondent.