06 July 2021 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng (Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC)
To ask the Minister for Law whether the Ministry can take an active approach to help Singaporeans who do not meet the current means test for pro bono legal services and cannot afford the market cost of legal services in matters such as deputyship, estate administration and divorce.
- The Government-funded civil and criminal legal aid covers the bottom 25% of resident households - this focuses our resources on helping residents most in need.
- The member’s real question is whether legal aid can be expanded to go beyond 25% in respect of the categories she has highlighted. We have given answers to similar questions, previously. It is possible to expand the coverage, but that has to be paid for, either by cutting back on some other service, or by increasing taxes. Ultimately there have to be judgment calls, on the right level of support for private legal services, to be paid for, by the general taxpayer. We have settled on 25% of resident households, and the figure has been, and will be regularly reviewed.
- The member also specifically referred to divorce cases. We have introduced a number of measures to streamline divorce proceedings. These include:
a. First, the simplified case management track. Parties who agree on the divorce and ancillary matters prior to the filing of the action can obtain a divorce on this track without going through lengthy court proceedings. They can navigate this on their own without the need to incur legal fees. This saves parties both costs and time. The majority of divorce cases are filed on the simplified track. In 2020, 60% of cases were filed on the simplified track.
b. Second, the use of alternative dispute resolution. For cases that do not proceed on the simplified track, many have been resolved through mediation. Mediation helps parties address the key issues without the need for lengthy or acrimonious hearings. In 2020, 90% of cases that went through mediation either reached a full or partial settlement.
c. Third, the use of the judge-led approach, where Judges take a more proactive role in proceedings by taking the lead and controlling the pace of the proceedings. This is a less adversarial mode of proceedings, which avoids unnecessary disputes, acrimony and protracted hearings.
d. Nevertheless, we agree that more can be done, because there continue to be cases where it is too costly and protracted - unnecessarily so. We will continue to see how these issues can be dealt with.
- The member has also asked about Deputyship and Estate Administration. We have worked with agencies and the courts to simplify processes in these matters, amongst others, to help Singaporeans to navigate processes. Simplified filing tracks have been introduced in the Family Justice Courts for the more straightforward deputyship applications. The Courts are also developing an online application for straightforward probate matters.
- We work closely with partners to increase awareness of common legal issues, through free public talks and webinars and legal clinics. We are also partnering the Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS) to develop a one-stop portal, that will provide layman-friendly information on common legal issues.
- We will continue to review other areas and processes that can be streamlined, and work on measures to increase awareness and enhance access to justice for Singaporeans.
Last updated on 06 July 2021