Parliament: Law change could see poor get legal help more easily; 6 Bills introduced in total

Proposed changes to the Legal Aid and Advice Bill seek to simplify the criteria for legal aid, allow more flexibility to give aid to those who fail the means test, and improve the administration of legal aid.
Proposed changes to the Legal Aid and Advice Bill seek to simplify the criteria for legal aid, allow more flexibility to give aid to those who fail the means test, and improve the administration of legal aid.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - It may soon be easier for the poor to get legal help.

Proposed changes to the Legal Aid and Advice Bill seek to simplify the criteria for legal aid, allow more flexibility to give aid to those who fail the means test, and improve the administration of legal aid.

These amendments, which the Ministry of Law (Minlaw) announced on Monday (Oct 1), will help "strengthen access to justice", it said in a statement.

Right now, applicants qualify for legal aid under the Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) if they meet certain requirements regarding their disposable income and capital.

The calculation takes into account several factors like Central Provident Fund contributions and a sum needed to maintain the living expenses of the applicant, spouse and dependents. But it excludes things like the cost of clothes, furniture and up to $46,000 in surrender value of one or more life policies.

With the changes, the ministry plans to simply look at a household's per capita income, annual value of the applicant's home, savings and investments.

This aims to simplify and shorten the application process for legal aid, as applicants would no longer need to provide proof of certain criteria.

The proposed laws, among other things, also give the Law Minister the chance to grant aid for applicants who do not satisfy the means criteria, if he thinks it is just and proper to do so.

In all, six Bills were introduced at Monday's Parliament sitting.

The new Civil Defence and Other Matters Bill, among other things, proposes giving Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers explicit powers to respond to a wider range of incidents - not just for fire-fighting cases or a civil defence emergency like an explosion, as is currently the case.

It will also criminalise the unauthorised production and distribution of SCDF uniforms, as well as the impersonation of an officer.

Meanwhile, the Serious Crimes and Counter-Terrorism (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill aims to strengthen the Government's ability to enforce and prosecute offences related to money laundering and terrorism financing.

For example, it could soon be an offence to possess or use property "reasonably suspected" of being criminal proceeds , which would help the authorities prosecute money mules who transport illicit funds for organised syndicates. Also, the penalties for those who fail to file a suspicious transaction report have been increased from a fine of $20,000, to $250,000 and three years' jail for individuals, and $500,000 for companies.

Those who tip off another person about an ongoing investigation may face a fine of $250,000 and three years' jail, up from $30,000.

Changes have been proposed to the Land Transport Authority of Singapore Bill to establish the $5 billion Rail Infrastructure Fund, announced at the Budget this year to develop future rail lines.

The Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill lays out how the tax would apply to overseas services like video-streaming apps, while the Developers (Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing) Bill proposes laws to deter money laundering and terrorism-financing in ways that might apply to property developers.