Law Society launches $2m Justice for All project

Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming, president of The Law Society of Singapore, speaking at a press conference on March 8, 2013. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO FILE
Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming, president of The Law Society of Singapore, speaking at a press conference on March 8, 2013. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO FILE

Scheme will be expanded to benefit 6,000 a year, up from the current 400

THE Law Society yesterday launched a $2 million project to increase public access to legal aid.

The plans include expanding the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) to benefit 6,000 a year, instead of the current 400, and new mobile legal clinics to reach out to sex workers.

The funds for this Justice for All project will be raised from the legal sector and the community, beginning with a charity walkathon next year.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam announced late last year that the Government is looking into directly funding CLAS as well. The ministry is expected to give more details on how criminal legal aid will be state-backed "in the coming months", said Law Society president Lok Vi Ming.

But for these programmes to be successful, more lawyers will need to volunteer their time providing pro bono services, he added. To meet the 6,000 target, CLAS, for instance, will need to "at least double the current 265" lawyers involved.

In a Law Society survey last year, four in 10 lawyers said they did pro bono work, averaging 15 hours each. Mr Lok said his goal was to see this rise to six in 10.

"We want to encourage lawyers to view success in their careers not just in terms of billings they achieve, but also in the amount they give back to society," said Mr Lok.

One way to bring in more volunteer lawyers for CLAS cases is by introducing an honorarium - or token fee - funded by the Government, and also by changing mindsets, said Mr Lok.

Lawyers will also be needed for the mobile legal clinics, which will be rolled out at the start of next year. These clinics, which also involve social workers, will help sex workers deal with legal issues.

Common questions deal with tenancy, health and immigration, said lawyer Nadia Yeo, who volunteered to run one of two trial clinics in Rowell Road this year. "This group tend not to seek legal help or know their rights," said the 28-year-old. "If nobody helps them, their concerns could grow into problems for the country."

The Justice for All project will also involve an islandwide roll- out next year of the Appropriate Adult Scheme, which taps trained volunteers to help mentally or intellectually disabled people when they are arrested. A six-month trial last year at Bedok Police Division involving 60 volunteers - known as appropriate adults - helped 30 accused people. The Law Society aims to train 300 people as appropriate adults.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon urged lawyers to respond to Law Society's call for more volunteers.

He said they have a "vital responsibility of doing what they can to ensure that justice indeed exists for all".

hpeishan@sph.com.sg