Law Society to roll out initiatives for the needy and vulnerable

SINGAPORE – The Law Society is rolling out several new initiatives this year, targeted at helping the vulnerable members of the society and the needy.

It will be piloting a low bono scheme for under-lawyered or un-lawyered litigants, targeted at those who have failed the Legal Aid Bureau’s means test and foreign spouses with Singaporean children.

A “low bono” scheme provides legal help at discounted rates for those who do not qualify for pro bono or free legal aid but find it difficult to afford a lawyer.

The scheme was announced by the society’s president, newly appointed Senior Counsel Gregory Vijayendran, at the opening of the legal year on Monday (Jan 7).

It will be put into operation by the Law Society Pro Bono Services, a corporatised entity and registered charity that was set up to improve access to justice for the needy.

A toolkit for lawyers on questioning the elderly and witnesses with mental incapacities, who are testifying court, is also in the works this year.

The toolkit is a sequel to guidelines that the Law Society issued last year on best practices in examining child witnesses and complainants of sexual offences.

“With these toolkits, the Law Society recognises that effective advocacy need to be nuanced to the needs of special witnesses in both their interests and that of administration of justice,” said Mr Vijayendran.

He also announced that the Law Society council has agreed to unlock more of the Compensation Fund, which was set up to mitigate the losses suffered by victims of lawyers’ fraud.

The society will also be tackling fake news and is developing a law fact check service, modelled after the Legal Fact Check website launched by the American Bar Association in 2016.

It aims to launch the service by the second quarter of this year, to provide the public with reliable and accurate answers to legal questions arising from news reports.

The society also announced a scheme in which a sole proprietor can appoint a fellow lawyer to step in in the event of prolonged hospitalisation, unexpected medical appointments during pregnancy or even death.

This serves as an interim, stop-gap measure to facilitate uninterrupted practice continuity, said Mr Vijayendran.

Addressing concerns from some criminal lawyers that services provided under the Criminal Aid Legal Scheme could be cannibalising fee-paying work, he said a committee was specially set up to review this issue.

A survey showed that 87 per cent of the respondents did not experience any decrease in briefs from 2013 to 2017 and that 92 per cent supported access to legal aid for the indigent.

“In the light of our findings, the Law Society cannot look the other way when faced with the legal needs of the impecunious facing non-capital charges. We will calibrate the right balance of serving our members while serving the needs of society’s indigent,” he said.

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