New Public Defenders Office will provide legal aid to people whose per capita household income does not exceed S$1,500: MinLaw
SINGAPORE – A proposed new public defender’s office will help people whose gross monthly per capita income does not exceed S$1,500 to receive criminal legal aid, the Ministry of Justice (MinLaw) said on Monday (July 4). .
The ministry tabled a Public Defenders Bill in Parliament on Monday proposing the establishment of the new office, which aims to help vulnerable Singaporeans and permanent residents who are charged with non-capital criminal offenses but cannot afford a legal representation may receive legal aid in criminal matters.
However, the bill excludes regulatory offenses – such as traffic summonses and minor charges from county or statutory councils – and 10 acts “whose primary purpose is to deter specific behaviors that result in negative externalities for society, namely gambling and betting, organized and syndicated crime and terrorism,” MinLaw said in a statement Monday.
It was one of many details MinLaw released about the new Public Defender’s Office, the plans for which were first announced in parliament on April 4 during a ministerial statement by Justice Minister K Shanmugam.
Mr. Shanmugam, who is also Minister of Interior, first raised the possibility of such an office to improve access to justice for vulnerable populations in November 2020 during a ministerial hearing on the Parti case. Liyani.
The Public Defender’s Office will work with the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (Clas), which also provides criminal legal assistance to vulnerable people and covers offenses under 17 statutes, such as the Criminal Code, Vandalism Act and Charter of Rights. women.
To determine whether a person is eligible for legal aid, the Public Defender’s Office and Clas apply a means and merits test to applicants.
“Clas currently uses the plaintiff’s disposable income for its means test, while the public defender’s office will use per capita household income,” MinLaw said in response to questions from TODAY.
According to the Law Society website, disposable income includes salary, rental income and other allowances and payments as well as spouse’s income for the last 12 months, after deducting S$6,000 for the claimant , S$6,000 for the working spouse, up to S$6,000 for each dependent and the applicant’s and spouse’s contributions to their central provident fund.
To qualify under the existing Clas income criteria, the applicant’s disposable income must not exceed S$10,000 in the last 12 months. This equates to a monthly gross per capita income of S$950.
In April, Mr Shanmugam announced that authorities were considering extending Clas coverage by raising the per capita monthly household income threshold from S$950 to S$1,500.
MinLaw said: “The adoption of the per capita household income test (for the Office of the Public Defender) to assess means is aligned with many other government-administered welfare schemes. As part of our plan to increase income coverage, the per capita household income test will be increased from S$950 to S$1,500.
The Ministry of Health also announced in March 2021 that it will adopt household income per capita by providing subsidies to Singaporeans requiring hospitalization for acute conditions from mid-2022. It also introduced a tier system based on per capita household income to differentiate subsidy levels for patients’ choices of hospital services.
If an applicant does not meet the means test for the office of the public defender, the bill allows the minister to authorize the chief public defender to grant assistance if he or she believes that assistance should be granted.
“This flexibility allows mitigating factors such as an applicant’s medical conditions and care obligations to be considered when awarding assistance,” MinLaw said.
The ministry added that more information about the public defender’s office resource review will be released at a later date.
Applicants will also have to meet a merit test to receive criminal legal aid from the bureau, where they need legal representation to plead guilty or if there are reasonable grounds for defense, MinLaw said.
Under the bill, the chief public defender can require a claimant to co-fund the cost of legal aid rendered to them, either in a lump sum or in instalments.
“The co-payment arrangement under the Office of the Public Defender will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and will depend on each claimant’s circumstances, such as per capita household income,” MinLaw added.
The Chief Public Defender shall have the power to require an applicant to co-fund the costs of legal aid rendered to him, in a lump sum or in instalments, and shall have the discretion to reduce, cancel or reimburse these costs. contributions.
At a later date, MinLaw said the public defender’s office would adopt a hybrid model of handling some cases in-house while outsourcing others to the private sector.
The bill therefore included provisions allowing the Chief Public Defender to appoint a panel of attorneys to act on behalf of claimants who have received assistance and to provide for the fees to be paid to those attorneys. Fees payable to counsel will be agreed between the Chief Public Defender and counsel based on various considerations, including the complexity and novelty of the issues involved in the case, and the specialist skills and knowledge required, as well as the time and work provided by the notary.
If candidates make false or misleading statements, fail to make “full and candid disclosure of the means” or to advise of any change in the means or circumstances which could render them ineligible for criminal action, they expose themselves to a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
The department said court-appointed lawyers under the new office will not need to be called to the bar, but must be “qualified persons with the necessary skills and credentials”.
“We have a robust selection process in place and will ensure that the best candidates with the relevant passion, aptitude, background and skills are hired.”
He added that the recruitment of public defenders is still ongoing and has received “good responses from new graduates and mid-career applicants so far.”