SINGAPORE: The government wants to tweak the law on legal aid for needy Singaporeans to expand coverage and ensure that it is offered with greater discretion and flexibility.
It has proposed changes to the Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill.
The proposed amendments were tabled in Parliament on Monday by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah.
A key change applies to those who apply for legal aid.
They have to pass a means test and a merits test.
The means test looks at the annual disposable income and disposable capital.
As for the merits test, the Legal Aid Board will decide on whether an applicant has reasonable grounds to seek legal aid.
Currently, an applicant can pass the means test if the annual disposable income and disposable capital do not exceed S$10,000 each.
To expand the coverage of legal aid for the needy, the Bill proposed a higher annual deductible amount from the annual disposable income — from S$4,500 to S$6,000.
As for the spouse, this should go up from S$3,500 to S$6,000.
For dependents, it should be increased from S$3,500 to S$6,000.
These are to take into account the increase in basic living expenditure.
Under the proposed amendments, the maximum annual rental relief should go up from the current S$1,000 to S$20,000.
This is based on the lower end of the prevailing open—market rental rate of three—room flats in suburban estates.
Another proposed change involves minors and spouses.
The Director of Legal Aid should be given the discretion in the application of the legal aid means test for matrimonial cases.
The changes to the Bill will be debated at a future sitting of Parliament.
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