Oral Answer by Senior Minister of State for Law, Mr Edwin Tong to Parliamentary Question on Pro-bono Legal Services
4 Sep 2019 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng (Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC)
To ask the Minister for Law (a) what is the income criterion for citizens seeking pro-bono legal services from the Legal Aid Bureau; (b) what are the avenues by which average-income families can access legal services at an affordable cost especially if they do not qualify for the pro-bono legal services; and (c) whether the Ministry can communicate these avenues of access to all citizens.
Mr Deputy Speaker, an applicant must be a Citizen or a Permanent Resident of Singapore to qualify for civil legal aid. The qualifying criteria for legal aid are two-fold. First, the applicant must satisfy the means test. Second, the applicant must show that he or she has a good reason to bring or defend the case under the law, otherwise known as the merits test.
To pass the current means test, an applicant’s disposable income cannot be more than S$10,000 per year and his disposal capital cannot be more than S$10,000.
Last November, Parliament passed the Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill. MinLaw intends to adopt the Per Capita Household Income (PCHI) and the Annual Value of the applicant’s residence, savings and investments, as the new criteria to replace disposable income and disposable capital. The changes will simplify the means test, align the criteria with those under other social support schemes and shorten the application process time. There will be no material impact on the number of households eligible for legal aid provided by the Legal Aid Bureau. The Bill also gives us greater flexibility to help applicants with extenuating circumstances. So, there is an element of discretion that is built into the amendment Bill, as the Member might recall from the debate. We target to announce the detailed means criteria and effect the changes by the end of this year.
Applicants who fail the means test may seek help from the Law Society Pro Bono Services, the Community Justice Centre and more than 50 other legal clinics run by various community, religious and voluntary welfare organisations.
The Ministry provides applicants who do not qualify for the means test, as well as members of the public who enquire about avenues of legal assistance, with a list of legal clinics and online resources which the applicants may use to find a suitable lawyer.
Last updated on 04 Sep 2019