More free community legal clinics to open

More free community legal clinics to open

More lawyers will soon be on hand to give free legal advice at new community legal clinics around the island.

At least three more of these clinics will join the current two pilot facilities in Woodlands and Eunos, under an agreement signed yesterday by The Law Society as well as the Office of the Mayors and People's Association.

No timeframe has been confirmed yet, but it will happen "as soon as possible," Dr Teo Ho Pin, chairman of the mayors' committee, told reporters.

"We will slowly build up our network of legal clinics within the districts to make it more convenient for residents," he said.

Currently, the two clinics - set up in 2007 - handle about 3,000 enquiries yearly, said Law Society president Lok Vi Ming, adding that the number can be increased by at least 30 per cent with the new facilities.

"This service has proven to be extremely popular and demand has grown over the years," he said.

Each of Singapore's five districts will have at least one clinic, so as to make it easier for low-income residents to seek legal advice, said Dr Teo.

And more clinics will be added, depending on demand, said Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who was also at the event.

Currently, more than 60 per cent of those who need legal advice are not from the North West and South East districts, where the two clinics are located.

In the last seven years, about 1,500 lawyers have committed more than 5,000 man hours on almost 15,000 cases, mainly relating to matrimonial, loan and employment issues.

Mr Shanmugam said that there will also be a bigger collaboration between community development councils and The Law Society, so that people can get more well rounded care.

The clinics are part of the Community Legal Pro Bono Services Network - so people who approach the lawyers may not only be offered legal advice, but also be pointed to other agencies for further help.

For example, a resident who needs legal help on a broken marriage may also be referred to the family service centre for counselling, and the social service office for financial help.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "Eventually, we really want to make it seamless... integrate all the types of services and get them working together."

Mr Patrick Tan, the founder and chief executive of Fortis Law Corp, has been volunteering under the programme for seven years, and called it a fantastic experience.

The 41-year-old lawyer, whose 10 employees are all active in the clinics, said: "We find that we are able to help a lot of people.

"Even though each session does not last long, we are able to give basic advice and tell them where they can seek help."

The service is available to Singaporeans and permanent residents. They must register before they can attend the 20- to 30-minute consultation.

To do so, they can call 6536-0650 or send an e-mail to probonoservices@lawsoc.org.sg

awcw@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 13, 2014.
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