Legal Aid Bureau revamps website to offer quicker help to poor

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah said about 9,000 applied for help last year, of whom around 90 per cent partially qualified by passing the preliminary means test.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah said about 9,000 applied for help last year, of whom around 90 per cent partially qualified by passing the preliminary means test.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Poor people in need of legal aid may soon get help more quickly.

From next year, the Legal Aid Bureau, which provides legal assistance to low-income Singaporeans for civil proceedings, will implement a new system that aims to assign lawyers to the needy faster.

Assigned solicitors, who are private sector lawyers registered with the bureau, will be able to browse and select the relevant cases they wish to work on via its revamped website.

Currently the site offers cases to individual lawyers who then decide whether to take them up.

The new system will be implemented in phases and is similar to "an online shopping platform", Legal Aid's director Lim Hui Min said on Wednesday (Nov 14).

"We will be able to match suitable assigned solicitors to cases much faster, and assigned solicitors can do what best suits their interests and schedules."

She was speaking at the Legal Aid Bureau's 60th anniversary dinner in Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.

The portal will also be upgraded for applicants so that they can check the status of their applications.

It currently allows applicants to register online and submit electronic documents but will also have new features such as an online means testing function.

Lawyer Seenivasan Lalita, who was at the event, said the new system of assigning cases would allow lawyers more choice.

"It gives us the opportunity to consider everything, before we actually confirm and accept the matter," said Madam Lalita, who is in her early 60s.

Since it started in 1958, the bureau, which is a department under the Ministry of Law, has received more than 400,000 applications.

Last year, about 9,000 applied for help, of whom around 90 per cent partially qualified for it by passing the preliminary means test, announced Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah, who was also at the event. Applicants must also pass a merits test to prove that they have a good reason to bring or defend their case under the law, to qualify for the aid.

The bureau's good work over the last 60 years was made possible because of the dedication of all its staff, lawyers, volunteers and partners, she noted.

One such individual is Mr Ramasamy Palanisamy, 77, who has been with the bureau for 55 years. The litigation clerk is still a member of the bureau's support staff.

"Throughout the years I realised how fortunate I am, to get to serve people who are poor and helpless," said Mr Ramasamy. "Because the job has meaning, as long as they want me, I will continue to serve."