SINGAPORE - The Government is planning to expand criminal legal aid as part of a new approach to ensure that more people accused of non-capital offences have access to justice, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said last Friday.
A key change will be the increase in funding for the existing Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS), said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking at the Association of Muslim Lawyers Inaugural Lecture at the Supreme Court auditorium last Friday night.
The scheme, he added, will be expanded into a four-tier system, which provides help that ranges from information on the available channels, all the way to full legal representation in court for some.
He said the move represents a "clear shift in policy and philosophy" in regard to legal aid.
The Government's stance had been that providing criminal legal aid would result in the state using public funds to both prosecute and defend the same accused individuals. But this latest move is in keeping with other changes made towards becoming a more inclusive and compassionate society, said the minister.
These include substantial rises in child and infant care assistance, and plans for a third law school at SIM University to produce more community law specialists.
The changes announced yesterday also follow amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Act that kicked in on July 1 and made it easier for parties in civil cases to pass a means test, which affects eligibility for aid administered by the Legal Aid Bureau (LAB).
The CLAS, run by the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office (PBSO), receives about 1,000 applications a year, of which up to 300 qualify for aid. Currently, only offences under 15 statutes, such as the Penal Code and Misuse of Drugs Act, are covered. With the increased funding, this list can be expanded.