Written Answer by Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, to Parliamentary Question on Revision of Means Test for Legal Aid
Mr Sitoh Yi Pin (Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir SMC)
To ask the Minister for Law whether the means test for legal aid can be further revised to allow more Singaporeans to qualify for legal aid as the legal issues they face, such as matrimonial disputes and family-related legal issues, can severely compromise their personal financial ability to engage legal assistance on a commercial basis..
1. The Ministry of Law regularly reviews the means test for civil legal aid, to ensure that legal aid remains accessible to lower income Singaporeans and PRs who cannot afford their own lawyers.
2. Legal aid is unlike other forms of government social assistance, which benefits the individual seeking help, as legal aid often means the state helping one party in a legal case against another Singaporean. We must therefore ensure that our system is rigorous in only assisting those who wish to pursue meritorious cases but cannot afford to do so.
3. For matrimonial disputes, the following provisions are in place to assist applicants: first, where the spouses are estranged, LAB excludes the income of the applicant’s spouse when assessing the applicant’s means. Second, in a divorce case, the matrimonial property would not be included in the means assessment.
4. Moreover, for family proceedings involving children or protection order applications between spouses or ex-spouses, the Director of Legal Aid can give an extra deduction for the disposable capital component of the means test. This ensures that the most vulnerable persons in family-related disputes are eligible for legal aid.