Update On Legal Aid Provided Under Amended Legal Aid And Advice Act

Murali Pillai
2 min readJan 20, 2022

The Legal Aid and Advice Act was amended in 2019 to provide the Minister or the Civil Legal Aid Means Test Panel with flexibility to order that legal aid be provided to a person even though he may not satisfy the means test if it is “just and proper” to do so. I sought an update on how many persons benefitted from this flexibility. The Minister informed that 7 applications were made since 2019. Of the 7 application, 5 were allowed. These cases involved applicants who faced serious and long-term financial challenges such as poor health or caregiving responsibilities.

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Law since the coming into effect of the amendments to the Legal Aid and Advice Act to allow applicants who do not satisfy the means test to be nonetheless provided legal aid if it is “just and proper” to do so (a) how many (i) applications have been received to date and (ii) applicants were provided with legal aid; and (b) what are the main grounds upon which discretion is exercised by the Minister or Civil Legal Aid Means Test Panel to grant legal aid to such applicants.

Mr K Shanmugam: In deciding whether to waive part or all of the prescribed Means Test requirements, the Minister or the Means Test Panel considers whether the applicant can afford the legal fees on their own, without causing significant hardship to themselves or their family. Examples of the factors considered include: (a) Whether the applicant or dependents currently have or will have unmet basic needs, such as food, shelter or healthcare, if they are to spend their income or assets on legal fees; (b) Whether the applicant’s inability to meet basic needs is due to serious and long-term reasons such as health and caregiving obligations; and (c ) Whether the applicant receives or is likely to receive sufficient support from other sources such as family members and other aid schemes.

Since its inception in 2019, the Panel has waived the requirements for five out of seven appeals received. The approved cases involved applicants who faced serious and long-term financial challenges, such as poor health or caregiving responsibilities. Of the five cases, two eventually did not proceed with their applications.

So far, there has been no necessity for the Minister to exercise his power to grant discretion as there has been no appeals to the Minister.

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Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.