Singapore

Faster, better legal aid for needy with revised means test, panel

The needy will soon get faster and greater access to legal aid under a new, simplified and more flexible system for assessing applicants.

The Legal Aid Bureau will use a revised means test procedure from next Wednesday to identify suitable applicants, while an independent panel will review deserving applicants who may not have satisfied the criteria, the Ministry of Law said yesterday.

This follows the amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Act last year.

To qualify for legal aid with the bureau, which is run by the Law Ministry, applicants must first show through a means test that they cannot afford a lawyer and demonstrate that they have good reasons to bring or defend a case.

"With the change, applicants will no longer need to provide proof of certain categories of income, assets and expenditure. This will shorten the application process for legal aid," said the Law Ministry, adding that the changes will have no impact on the number of households eligible.

INDEPENDENT PANEL

An independent panel has also been set up to review applicants who do not satisfy the means criteria but still cannot afford basic legal services.

Under the current system, the director of legal aid has no discretion to grant aid to applicants who fail the means test if their circumstances do not fall under four specific categories outlined in the Act.

The new panel can review and grant aid to deserving applicants who fail the means test, provided they also pass the merits test. - CARA WONG

COURT & CRIME