Government to help fund enhanced Criminal Legal Aid Scheme

The Government has pledged up to $3.5 million a year to fund the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) to help more needy people who face charges and cannot afford lawyers. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
The Government has pledged up to $3.5 million a year to fund the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) to help more needy people who face charges and cannot afford lawyers. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The Government has pledged up to $3.5 million a year to fund the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) to help more needy people who face charges and cannot afford lawyers.

For a start, the Government will provide $800,000 for initial costs of the enhanced CLAS, which was officially launched on Monday at the State Courts by Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "This represents a significant shift in the Government's philosophy."

CLAS, run by the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office, was previously not funded by the Government.

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 it has decided to play a bigger role because it recognised that accused persons who cannot afford their own lawyers "should nevertheless not be left to face the criminal justice system alone", said Mr Shanmugam.

The enhanced scheme - first announced in 2013 - aims to serve up to 6,000 accused persons yearly up from about 400 now.

Lawyers who do pro bono work for the CLAS will also be given a honorarium of between $500 and $2,500.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi said: "The objective (of the honorarium) is to alleviate some of the financial pressure caused by the diversion of our volunteers' resources from fee paying work...(it) serves as a token of gratitude."

The scheme is also expanded into a four-tier system, which provides help that ranges from information on the available channels to full legal representation in court for some.

Another enhancement is the CLAS Fellowship Programme, in which five lawyers are hired by the Law Society to do criminal legal aid work full-time.

The CLAS receives more than 1,000 applications a year. Last year it had 1,780 applications, of which only 431 were successful.