More needy Singaporeans, permanent residents to qualify for legal aid

The Law Ministry wants to change the law so that more needy Singaporeans and permanent residents can receive legal aid.

Now, applicants must pass both a means test and a merit test to receive legal aid.

The means test looks at annual disposable income - that is, income after deductibles and reliefs - and disposable capital. To pass, these amounts cannot exceed $10,000.

The Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill, introduced in Parliament on Monday, will increase the deductibles and reliefs so that more people can qualify.

For instance, the main applicant's deductible will be raised to $6,000, from $4,500 previously. The maximum annual rental relief will also be raised to $20,000 from just $1,000 previously.

The Bill also seeks to give the Director of Legal Aid discretion in applying the means test, in divorces where minors are involved, cases involving custody and care of children who are minors, and the personal protection of a child or spouse.

Co-payment of legal aid will also be changed, such that all applicants are liable to pay regardless of their level of income. However, the amount they have to pay will still be determined based on their financial means and the help rendered.

Another Bill introduced on Monday seeks to amend the Fire Safety Act, to enhance enforcement and improve fires safety.

The authorities will be given more power to impose closure orders on unsafe premises, and to investigate incidents. Penalties will be raised for offences such as unauthorised fire safety works, or failure to supervise fire safety works.

And designated buildings which now have Fire Emergency Plans will need to put in place Emergency Response Plans, to deal with emergencies apart from fires.