Simpler and More Efficient Civil Legal Aid Application Process with Greater Flexibility to Grant Aid
09 OCT 2019
9 Oct 2019 Posted in Press releases
- From 16 October 2019, the Ministry of Law will implement new means test procedures for civil legal aid. The changes will simplify the application process and reduce the amount of paperwork for applicants. There will also be greater flexibility to grant aid to deserving applicants. These changes operationalise the amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Act in 2018, which seek to improve access to justice.
New Means Criteria to Shorten the Application Process
- The Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) provides a range of services to Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents of limited means, including representation in court and oral advice on civil matters, and drafting of wills and deeds of separation. To qualify, applicants must:
- Demonstrate that they cannot afford a lawyer (also known as the means test); and
- Show that they have good reasons to bring or defend the case under the law (also known as the merits test).
- Currently, to pass the means test, applicants must satisfy the criteria based on disposable income and disposable capital. Applicants are required to submit documentary proof of their income, savings, investments, as well as the various deductibles, such as the applicant and the spouse’s CPF contributions, rent payment, value of the subject-matter of the legal proceeding, and the surrender value of life policies.
- To simplify and shorten the application process for legal aid, from 16 October 2019, the means criteria will be revised to the following to align with those commonly used in social support schemes:
- Average Per Capita Gross Monthly Household Income (PCHI). The average of the applicant’s PCHI must be $950 or lower for the last 12 months prior to the application;
- Annual Value of applicant’s place of residence, which must be $13,000 or lower; and
- Applicant’s savings and non-CPF investments, which must be $10,000 or lower.
- With the change, applicants will no longer need to provide proof of certain categories of income, assets, and expenditure. This will shorten the application process for legal aid.
- The changes to the civil legal aid means test will have no material impact on the number of households who are eligible for legal aid. For more details on the current and new means criteria, refer to the Annex.
Panel to Qualify Applicants with Extenuating Circumstances for Legal Aid
- Currently, the Director of Legal Aid may grant aid to those who fail the means test under four specific circumstances defined in the Legal Aid and Advice Act, subject to the applicants also passing the merits test:
- Applicant living separate and apart from spouse: The Director may disregard the income of the applicant’s spouse;
- Sudden physical or mental disability: The Director may grant the applicant a deduction of $2,000 when computing his disposable income, and up to $30,000 in savings when computing his disposable capital;
- Sudden loss of income: The Director may assess the applicant’s income over a period of 6 months (instead of 12 months); and
- Family proceedings involving children or protection orders between spouses/ ex-spouses: The Director may exclude a private property with an annual value of up to $20,000 (instead of $13,000) and an additional deduction of $5,000 when computing the applicant’s disposable capital.
- The Director has no discretion to grant aid to other applicants who fail the means test and do not satisfy any of these four circumstances, for example, an applicant who is not able to afford legal services as he has a serious illness and has to pay for major medical procedures.
- To help applicants who do not satisfy the means criteria but are unable to afford basic legal services due to extenuating circumstances, the Ministry has set up an independent Panel to review their applications on a case-by-case basis.
- The new independent Panel is empowered to qualify the deserving applicants for legal aid, if they are unable to afford legal fees without causing significant hardship to themselves and their families. The grant of aid is subject to the applicants also passing the merits test. The change will provide greater flexibility for LAB to render assistance to deserving applicants.
MINISTRY OF LAW
9 OCTOBER 2019
Last updated on 9 Oct 2019