COS Cut for MLAW
Last year I asked whether some form of discretion can be given to the Director of Legal Aid when granting legal aid. SMS Indranee replied that they will review and update the means test and qualifying criteria to ensure access to justice for those of limited means.
In 2017, 92% of applications passed the means test while 87% passed the merits test. While it is heartening to note that a large majority is granted legal aid, there may nevertheless be cases that fall through the gaps. It was stated that the review would include considering granting discretion to the Director of Legal Aid for exceptional cases that do not pass the means and merits test. Can the Ministry provide an update on the review?
Further, how will MinLaw ensure that persons of limited means continue to have access to civil and criminal legal aid?
Singapore was the first in Southeast Asia to enact a legal aid scheme in 1958. Over the past 60 years, the Legal Aid Bureau has assisted many low-income Singaporeans in civil legal proceedings.
Many improvements have been over the years.
First, we have enhanced LAB (Legal Aid Bureau)’s systems and processes to better serve applicants.
(a) LAB has gone completely paperless with a new case management system, increasing efficiency by allowing different officers to work on a single file simultaneously.
(b) The new system also saves applicants’ time, by allowing them to correspond with LAB and submit relevant documents online.
(c) Those who are less IT-savvy, such as the elderly, can continue to correspond with LAB by post or in person. Staff at the MinLaw Services Centre also assist the applicants to complete, submit, and print online documents and forms if they require help.
Second, LAB has established a referral protocol to refer applicants who require non-legal assistance to social agencies and to PAVE, a family violence specialist agency. Likewise, these agencies will refer their clients to LAB for legal assistance where necessary. Such cross-referrals provide better support to the vulnerable, and also increases awareness of the aid channels:
(a) In one case, a young lady who had been sexually abused by her father sought help from PAVE. PAVE helped her to find shelter, and then referred her to LAB to seek a personal protection order (“PPO”) against her father.
(b) While LAB handled the legal matters, PAVE provided counselling and emotional support.
(c) The young lady succeeded in obtaining the personal protection order, with the help of PAVE and LAB.
Dr Tan Wu Meng and Mr Louis Ng asked if we will review our means test, so more Singaporeans can be helped. We are doing so, and will announce details when ready, later this year.