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Law Society aims to dispense legal aid to 6,000 yearly

It hopes to raise S$2 million by the end of next year to fund this initiative, as well as others announced on Thursday (Aug 28).

SINGAPORE: The Law Society on Thursday (Aug 28) announced it will enhance its Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS), which would increase the amount of assistance it could provide to those needing legal help.

During a media briefing on Thursday, the Law Society launched its "Justice for All" project to make legal knowledge more accessible in Singapore. Under CLAS, it aims to extend legal assistance to about 6,000 qualifying individuals annually - an increase from the current 400.

The Law Society said services provided will also be expanded. The CLAS, which was launched in 1985, usually provides criminal legal assistance to those unable to afford a lawyer. The charges faced by the accused must be under a list of 15 statutes for them to qualify under the scheme. These include the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Vandalism Act. The CLAS is different from the Legal Aid Bureau, which is run by the Government and provides legal aid and advice only on civil but not criminal cases.

To encourage participation of more volunteer lawyers, training schemes will be provided. The Law Society said there are currently about 265 volunteer lawyers in CLAS. However, it has yet to confirm when the enhanced CLAS will kick in. 

Mr Lok Vi Ming, president of the Law Society, said one of the objectives it hopes to achieve is to tailor the resources and allow as many people to benefit from it. “We help by writing letters of representation to the Attorney-General's Chambers and to see if that charge can be reduced and if it is possible, perhaps there is no need even for a trial to proceed. And the parties would then be able to take a certain course of action.”

OTHER INITIATIVES

Additionally, the Law Society also announced its "Appropriate Adult Scheme", which will be launched next year. This will entail trained individuals to facilitate communication between the police and those in custody who are suspected of having a mental or intellectual disability. For instance, the trained facilitators can rephrase questions posed by investigators into sentences that would be better understood.

It comes following a seven-month pilot programme held between June and November last year at Bedok Police Division. The Law Society aims to launch the scheme by the first quarter of next year in all six police land divisions islandwide. 

To further equip the community at large with legal knowledge, the Law Society's "Project Schools" initiative will enter its second phase. This project helps youths understand their rights and obligations under Singapore's laws, informing them of the consequences of juvenile delinquency.

New content topics will be introduced and the Law Society aims to increase its reach to impact 30 per cent of all secondary schools by 2015, it said. Since the initiative started in July 2012, 35 schools have taken part, involving more than 15,000 students.

The Law Society aims to raise S$2 million by end-2015 to fund these efforts. It will be working together with the legal industry, Government and the community to achieve this, it said.