Enhancing Access to Justice with the Establishment of a Public Defender’s Office and Expansion of Coverage for Criminal Legal Aid
04 Apr 2022 Posted in Press releases
- As part of our ongoing review of the legal framework to ensure that Singaporeans, including those of limited means, continue to have access to justice, the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) will be establishing a Public Defender’s Office (“PDO”) and expanding the coverage of criminal legal aid by the end of 2022.
- These changes will enable more Singaporeans to qualify for criminal legal aid, and help to build a more robust and sustainable legal aid system in Singapore. In the course of the review, the Ministry studied the approaches adopted by 11 overseas jurisdictions1 and the learning points. We also consulted and took in feedback from the Law Society of Singapore and the legal fraternity.
Establishing A Public Defender’s Office to Strengthen Criminal Legal Aid
- The Government will establish a PDO to provide criminal legal aid to those facing non-capital criminal charges in Singapore, but are unable to engage a lawyer due to limited means. (See Annex A for an overview of the development of our criminal legal aid model over the years.)
- The PDO will be established as a department under MinLaw, and fully funded by the Government. The PDO will be headed by a Chief Public Defender and staffed by Public Defenders, who will be full time lawyers.
- The PDO will adopt a hybrid model, where Public Defenders will take on criminal legal aid cases, while also outsource some cases to a panel of qualified lawyers from a later date.
- The PDO will co-deliver criminal legal aid alongside the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (“CLAS”).
- To establish the PDO, a Public Defender’s Bill (the “Bill”) will be tabled in Parliament. Once the Bill is passed, the PDO aims to start operations by the end of this year. More details of the Bill will be released in due course.
Expansion of Criminal Legal Aid Coverage
The Government will also expand criminal legal aid coverage by (a) raising the income limit to cover more Singaporeans of limited means, and (b) expanding the scope of support to cover most offences.
(a) Income coverage
Currently, the income limit for CLAS covers up to the 25th percentile of resident households.2 To cover more vulnerable Singaporeans who would find it challenging to afford legal representation, the monthly Per Capita Household Income (PCHI) cut-off will be raised from $950 to $1,500, enabling resident households up to the 35th income percentile to benefit.
(b) Offence coverage
- The scope of coverage will also be expanded to all types of offences, except regulatory offences such as traffic summonses and departmental charges3, as well as certain Acts whose primary purpose is to deter specific behaviours, namely gambling and betting, organised and syndicated crime, and terrorism. CLAS currently only covers 17 Acts.
- The Government will put in place measures to try and ensure that aid is only given to deserving cases.
- These expansions in the coverage of criminal legal aid will take effect when the PDO begins operations by the end of 2022.
MINISTRY OF LAW
04 APRIL 2022
Annex A – Overview: Review of our Criminal Legal Aid Model
1. The 11 jurisdictions, which comprised a mix of common law and civil law systems, are: The United Kingdom, New Zealand, the states of New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, the province of Ontario in Canada, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the United States at the New York state and federal levels.↩
2. To qualify under CLAS’ existing income criteria, the applicant’s Disposable Income should not exceed $10,000 over the last 12 months. This is equivalent to a monthly PCHI of $950.↩
3. Some examples of departmental charges may include, but are not limited to, littering offences under the Environmental Public Health Act and parking offences under the Parking Places Rules of the Parking Places Act.↩
Last updated on 04 Apr 2022