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Primary Justice Project launched for more affordable legal help

People involved in divorce matters or civil claims cases of below S$60,000 can now get basic legal services for a fixed fee with the launch of the Primary Justice Project on Friday.

SINGAPORE: People involved in divorce matters or civil claims cases of below S$60,000 can now get basic legal services for a fixed fee with the launch of the Primary Justice Project on Friday.

The project was jointly developed by the State Courts, The Law Society of Singapore and the Community Justice Centre in consultation with members of the Bar.

The project, which was first mentioned by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon during the State Court's workplan in 2013, encourages the resolution of disputes quickly and amicably out of court.

It could reduce the caseload in the courts, and also mean greater savings in time and costs for the litigants.

The types of cases which fall within the ambit of the project are civil claims below S$60,000 and beyond the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Tribunal; and divorce matters with most ancillary issues which are close to settlement -- such as maintenance, division of matrimonial assets, and arrangements for the children involved.

See Kee Oon, Presiding Judge of the State Courts, said: "The 'Primary Justice lawyer' is analogous to the affordable GP (General Practitioner) or Primary Healthcare Provider who serves as a viable option between self-medication and hospitalisation.

“The Primary Justice lawyer provides affordable basic legal services that offer an alternative to self-representation and costly litigation."

Mr See, who is also Judicial Commissioner, noted that some litigants have in recent years resorted to self-representation, because litigation costs can be prohibitive.

"They can be overwhelmed by the procedures and the demands of being in the unfamiliar environment of the courtroom, making it exceedingly challenging for them to adequately present their case.

“The Primary Justice Project thus introduces into the justice eco-system a new alternative, for parties who wish to avoid both potentially high legal fees as well as perplexing self-representation," he added.

Under the project, lawyers will provide basic legal services at a fixed fee for up to six hours.

The aim is to steer parties towards achieving an amicable resolution through mediation or negotiation.

It will cost S$400 for the first hour of consultation. During the consultation, various options for resolving the dispute will be explored before the next course of action is decided.

And if a person decides to proceed to explore resolution with the other party, it will cost S$300 for each subsequent hour for legal services that include facilitating settlement negotiations.

For a start, 50 lawyers are involved in the project.

Thio Shen-Yi, vice president of the Law Society of Singapore, said: "We already have a sign-up of another 50 to 60 lawyers, and they will be going through a training course some time at the end of this month.

“So in one or two months, we'll have a hundred over lawyers. Of course we will encourage more people to sign up, but I think once this gets momentum, there'll be more and more lawyers who want to play a part in this."

Primary Justice lawyer Amolat Singh said: "I think at some point, money is a secondary issue. The reason we step up to the plate is to try and do something for the people who have thus far not been able to have access to lawyers -- either because they feel the fees are too high, or they think that at the end of everything, the amount that they've paid will be far more than what they recover." 

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