SINGAPORE - The poor should have greater access to justice, especially regarding plea bargains and bail conditions, said Workers' Party Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim on Wednesday.
"Much as we would like to think that justice is blind...the rich and the poor access the criminal justice system differently. While the rich have the resources to engage expensive lawyers and experts to support their cases, the poor have to make decisions based on their means," she said in Parliament.
This sometimes includes pleading guilty when they do not have the time or resources to contest their charges, she added.
In a speech focusing on crime and justice issues, she urged the Government to ensure that persons entering bargains are legally represented, even if they cannot afford their own lawyers.
"There is a risk of persons taking certain courses of action out of ignorance or convenience not realising they've a valid defence and not being aware of the effect of certain types of convictions on their future prospects," said Ms Lim, a former police inspector and criminal lawyer.
The Law Ministry is developing a plea bargaining framework for the early resolution of criminal cases, and will be increasing funding to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.
Ms Lim also urged the courts to look more closely at the possibility of more non-monetary bail conditions being set, so that more of the poor can be released before their trial.
She also spoke on challenges facing the Home Team, acknowledging the pressures they face. "When mistakes happen, scapegoating should be avoided...and the public should play a constructive role and not add to the problem," she said.
But to ensure there is no compromise on police response times, new unmanned Neighbourhood Police Posts which offer electronic services should be assessed carefully, she added.
She also urged the Government to gather and share more data on crime and justice issues, such as regular scientific papers. This is so the public can better understand crime and justice issues, and decisions can be taken in a disciplined manner, she said.
Applauding the Government's recent decision to provide criminal legal aid to those facing non-capital charges after years of being reluctant to, Ms Lim said: "We should not be afraid to change our mind and make U-turns...and approach issues with an open mind. Ultimately, it is out common interest to have a safe, fair and just society."