Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law & Finance, at the Community Justice Centre's 5th Anniversary Dinner Celebrations
High Court Judge, Justice Tan Siong Thye,
Chairman, Community Justice Centre, Justice See Kee Oon,
Organising Chairman, Community Justice Centre Charity Golf 2018, Mr
Chew Kwee San,
Board and Members,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am delighted to be here today to join in the Community Justice Centre’s 5th anniversary celebrations.
Providing access to justice and social support for the vulnerable
2. The Community Justice Centre, or CJC, with support from the State courts, the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, and the government, came into being with a simple but noble purpose: to help litigants-in-person understand and navigate the legal process in resolving their legal issues. CJC has grown significantly since its humble beginnings as the State Court’s HELP Centre, providing basic information on court processes to self-represented litigants. CJC now provides basic legal advice on-site at the State courts and the Supreme Court through their On-Site Legal Advice Scheme (OSLAS). Recognising that many self-represented litigants also face difficult family and social circumstances, CJC also provide for some basic non-legal needs. CJC’s programme, the Legal Information and Knowledge of Social Services (LINKS), provides immediate assistance such as interim financial support from Comcare and food vouchers from Food Bank Singapore and MUIS. Those who require longer term social support are referred to community partners such as Family Service Centres (FSCs) and relevant social service agencies. Today, CJC remains a unique community partnership between the public sector, the philanthropic sector, and the legal profession rendering assistance to litigants-in-person. The stakeholders in the partnership that CJC represents all have a common goal - access to justice for all.
3. As CJC is based on-site at the Courts, it is uniquely positioned to provide easily accessible help to people trying to navigate our legal system without a lawyer. This includes understanding what help Litigants-in Person need, and referring them to appropriate schemes. Those who need but are unable to afford legal representation may apply for legal aid from MinLaw’s Legal Aid Bureau (LAB), or through the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) run by the Law Society Pro Bono Services. Partnerships such as the one the CJC has forged have become an essential part of the strong fabric of our access to justice landscape in Singapore, and I want to congratulate the CJC and all your community partners on your achievements.
4. There is no better way to celebrate your achievements than through the stories of some of the people you have helped.
5. Amongst us today is an example of someone who was able to restart her life and continue to support her family, after receiving help from CJC, CLAS and other CJC partners. She has kindly allowed me to share her story. I hope that others, hearing this story, will know that help is available, and will come forward early instead of suffering in silence.
6. Sheila (not her real name), lives in a 2 room HDB rental flat with her sick and aged mother and 2 teenagers. She has been the family’s sole breadwinner after her husband passed away suddenly. Her financial struggles started when she had to pay her grandmother’s funeral expenses and her grandfather’s exhumation and cremation expenses. She borrowed money to meet these expenses and later, facing difficulty with repaying her debts, Sheila misappropriated funds from her previous company. She was caught and charged in Court. Having lost her job, she could neither afford to support her family nor pay for legal representation.
7. Sheila found help under CLAS. The CLAS lawyer helped Sheila with her mitigation plea and she was sentenced to a reduced jail term. Concerned about her welfare, I understand that the CLAS lawyer also used his own money to help Sheila with her daily expenses and referred her to CJC for assistance. Complementing the legal aid provided, CJC provided her with food rations and vouchers as an interim measure, and referred her to its community partners for longer-term assistance. CJC’s partner, the Prison Fellowship Singapore, helped Sheila with her job search and provided financial assistance to help the family tide over this difficult period.
8. I am glad that after completing her sentence, Sheila has since found a full-time job and is now able to support her family while repaying her debts.
New CJC initiatives to further enhance access to justice
9. I am happy that CJC is not resting on its laurels, and has been launching new initiatives to further enhance access to justice.
10. Last year, CJC partnered the State Courts to publish the “Guidebook for Accused-in-Person”, also known as GAP. This book is drafted in simple terms to help laypersons navigate the criminal justice system. The book is available online on the CJC’s and State Courts’ websites. It will eventually be translated into more languages. If you would like to have a copy, you can request for one at the entrance after dinner.
11. Digital technology is changing the way we work and live. In a moment, we will be launching CJC’s new Self Help e-Web, also known as SHeW (pronounced as ‘show’), which aims to be CJC’s online HELP Centre. SHeW is in line with the national push towards becoming a Smart Nation. By harnessing technology to improve your operational efficiency, you are delivering better services to litigants-in-person.
12. I would like to highlight a few key features of SHeW.
13. First, the system generates completed forms which can be printed and submitted to the Courts. It uses easy to understand infographics to guide users through key court procedures, such as self-declared bankruptcy applications and deputyship applications. Users will only need to answer a series of simple questions, and the system will generate a form automatically.
14. Second, the system also features a chatbot that is able to give basic legal information for certain legal matters. In fact, this weekend, a group of data scientists have gathered at a Hackathon organised by DataKind and Expedia to improve the chatbot so that it can provide better answers.
15. This project is only possible with the collaboration from the private, people and public sectors:
i. Students from the NUS Pro Bono Group described the court procedures and simplified the court forms;
ii. Lawyers such as Benny Tan and those from Wong Partnership and RHTLaw Taylor Wessing vetted the work of the students to ensure that they were legally accurate;
iii. Technology Partners, Microsoft and Customer Capital Consulting helped to develop the system at a special rate; and
iv. The National Council of Social Services provided seed funding.
16. This collaboration typifies the way CJC works with its partners to support litigants-in-person, and I am heartened that so many people were keen to play a part, from students and lawyers to IT companies.
17. I am very encouraged by the success of CJC’s many practical initiatives to reach out to litigants-in-person, and I want to congratulate the CJC and all your community partners again on your achievements.
18. In closing, I would like to thank CJC, your partners, many of whom are here today, for your hard work and dedication to serving the community. Working together, you have strengthened access to justice and made a difference in the lives of many families.
19. Congratulations, CJC, on your 5th anniversary and the launch of SHeW. I wish you all the very best and here’s to many more years of serving our community.
20. Thank you.