Public defender’s office bill: Justice minister can overturn denial of aid

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SINGAPORE – The Chief Public Defender, who will lead the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) to be set up by the end of the year, may approve criminal legal aid to Singaporeans and permanent residents who pass the resource and merit tests, but may also refuse to give assistance.

However, the Minister of Justice can overrule any decision not to grant aid, for example where people who fail the means test are unable to afford a lawyer due to illness or financial obligations. of care.

But those who abuse the system by misrepresenting their means can face a maximum fine of $5,000 or up to six months in jail.

These are the key elements of a bill introduced on Monday (July 4) which, if passed by Parliament, paves the way for the PDO to manage criminal legal aid as a department under the ministry. of Justice (MinLaw).

In April, Minister of Justice K. Shanmugam announced the decision to establish the fully government-funded PDO to provide legal aid to needy people who face criminal charges but cannot afford to hire legal aid. lawyers.

The scheme will cover up to the 35th percentile of resident households. This equates to a per capita monthly family income of up to $1,500.

Mr Shanmugam had said in his ministerial statement that it was about improving access to justice for vulnerable people in Singapore.

This decision marked a significant change in the government’s position on criminal legal aid.

It followed a fundamental shift in 2015, when the government began funding the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, which was founded by the Law Society in 1985.

On Monday, MinLaw introduced the Public Defenders Bill providing for the appointment of a Chief Public Defender and Public Defenders; extent of criminal legal aid coverage; processes for granting aid; and a sanctions framework.

The ministry said the chief public defender will be authorized to appoint public officers and other individuals to serve as public defenders.

The bill also provides that the PDO will provide criminal legal aid to eligible Singaporeans and permanent residents charged with non-death offences.

Regulatory offenses such as traffic warnings and minor statutory council charges, as well as 10 specific statutes, are excluded.

The 10 laws relate to gambling and betting, organized and syndicated crime and terrorism.

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