14 Jan 2013 Posted in Press releases
- The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) is proposing amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Act (“LAAA”), which provides for the grant of legal aid and advice to needy Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents (“PRs”). Legal aid is administered by the Legal Aid Bureau (“LAB”), a department under MinLaw.
- The Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill (“Bill”) proposes amendments to:
- Update the legal aid means test to expand the coverage of legal aid;
- Introduce greater discretion and flexibility in the administration of the legal aid scheme by LAB; and
- Enhance the co-payment principle.
The Bill also proposes technical amendments to update and clarify the current legislation.
- Proposed Amendments
- Update the legal aid means test to expand the coverage of legal aid
- Applicants for legal aid are required to pass a means test and a merits test, before they are eligible for legal aid. The means test assesses the eligibility of the applicant based on his (a) annual disposable income 1, and (b) disposable capital 2. Currently, an applicant can pass the means test if his annual disposable income and disposable capital are not more than $10,000 respectively. The merits test is assessed by the Legal Aid Board on whether the applicant has reasonable grounds for seeking legal aid 3.
- To expand the coverage of legal aid for the needy, the Bill proposes these amendments to the means test:
Annual disposable income
- Increase the annual deductible 4 for the main applicant from $4,500 to $6,000, for his spouse from $3,500 to $6,000, and for his dependents from $3,500 to up to $6,000 5, to account for the increase in basic living expenditure; and
- Increase the maximum annual rental relief from $1,000 to $20,000, based on the lower end of the prevailing open-market rental rate of three-room flats in suburban estates 6
- Disregard up to $46,000 of the surrender value of life insurance policies, excluding investment-linked policies, so that needy applicants with life insurance policies can still qualify for legal aid;
- Exclude CPF investments, as they cannot be withdrawn to pay for legal services, and
- Increase the assessed annual value (AV) 7 of the applicant’s self-owned dwelling-house to be excluded from the disposable capital test, from $7,800 to $13,000, in line with the maximum annual value of HDB flats.
The existing and proposed coverage for legal aid eligibility is illustrated in Annex A (0.02MB).
- Introduce greater discretion and flexibility in the administration of the legal aid scheme by LAB
- In recognition of the greater vulnerability of minors (children aged under 21) and spouses – it is proposed that the Director of Legal Aid be given the discretion in the application of the legal aid means test for matrimonial cases pertaining to:
- Divorces where minors are involved;
- Custody, care and control and access of children, child maintenance, and all cases under the Guardianship of Infants Act 8, where minors are involved, and
- The personal protection of a child and/or spouse.
- Applicants for such cases will enjoy an additional relief of $5,000, and a higher assessed AV of up to $20,000 (instead of $13,000), for the disposable capital portion of the means test.
- Enhance the co-payment principle
- Under current legislation, applicants only need to pay a financial contribution to LAB after they receive the Grant of Aid 9, and also on the condition that they possess more than $2,000 disposable capital and income. Some of these cases do not reach the stage where a Grant of Aid is received, which means that legal advice or assistance may have been rendered but the financial contribution is not made. To foster greater shared ownership of legal aid cases, the Bill proposes that the co-payment principle be revised such that all applicants would be liable to pay a contribution to LAB, regardless of their level of disposable capital or income and whether they have received a Grant of Aid.
- Nevertheless, the amount of contribution to be paid by applicants will continue to be determined based on their financial means and the extent of work done by the LAB, such that those with lesser means will generally pay a lesser contribution.
- Other amendments
- The Bill also makes technical amendments to update and clarify the current legislation.
For example, the LAAA only allows legal aid to be granted for work injury compensation proceedings in the civil courts, but not for proceedings before the Commissioner for Labour under the Work Injury Compensation Act. The Bill proposes amendments to cover hearings before the Commissioner for Labour under the Work Injury Compensation Act since this is also a viable option for the injured workman to pursue his case.
- There are instances where it may be appropriate for a legal aid applicant to commence bankruptcy proceedings against a debtor. Under the current Bankruptcy Rules, the applicant is required to pay a $1,600 bankruptcy deposit to the Official Assignee. This potentially hinders a person receiving legal aid from enforcing his rights against his debtors. The Bill thus proposes amendments to exempt persons receiving legal aid from paying the bankruptcy deposit.
- Other amendments include an enhancement to the management of LAB’s volunteers and operations, such as empowering the Director of LAB to remove a solicitor from the volunteer solicitor panel, for example, when the solicitor is deceased, retired or ceases to hold a practising certificate.
- With the proposed amendments, the coverage of legal aid will be extended to more Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, in particular matrimonial cases involving minors. It will also further improve the administration of the legal aid scheme.
 Disposable income is the total income of the applicant and spouse (if any) for the past 12 months, after deducting the applicable deductibles and reliefs under the Act, such as personal deductible, dependent deductibles, and CPF contributions.
 Disposable capital is the property which the applicant possesses or is entitled to, such as, money in hand or in banks, shares or vehicles, after excluding the applicable categories of property under the Act, such as HDB flat, CPF moneys, etc.
 The Legal Aid Board comprises the Director of Legal Aid and at least two independent lawyers from private practice.
 A deductible is a sum which is deducted from the annual gross income of a legal aid applicant to arrive at his annual disposable income. It covers basic expenses, such as for daily necessities.
 The dependent deductible may be reduced from $6,000 to the actual amount that the main applicant and spouse are paying towards the support of the dependent.
Based on HDB’s 2013 estimates
 The AV is the estimated annual rent of the property if it were to be rented out, excluding the furniture, furnishings and maintenance fees. It is determined after analysing the rents of similar or comparable properties. The basis of determining the AV is the same whether the property is rented out, owner-occupied or left vacant.
 The Guardianship of Infants Act (Cap. 122) provides for proceedings involving the custody and maintenance of infants and matters involving the guardian of the infant.
 A Grant of Aid, currently known as a legal aid certificate, is required for the applicant to receive legal representation.
Annex A: Existing and proposed coverage for legal aid eligibility (0.02MB)
Last updated on 04 Feb 2013