Govt studying legal scheme to help accused who cannot afford lawyer

A Public Defenders' Office could be set up by the Government to provide legal help for those facing criminal charges in Singapore but are unable to engage their own lawyer.

It is a proposal being considered in the review started last year of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, which was enhanced in 2015, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told the House yesterday.

The details and feasibility of such an office will be further studied by the Government, with the Law Society and Criminal Bar, he said, adding that the Law Ministry is in favour of it.

But such a scheme is not without challenges, he noted, citing examples faced by similar schemes overseas.

Mr Shanmugam explained that having a Public Defenders' Office means the Government pays for the lawyers and employs them in a separate structure, to defend the accused in criminal cases.

"How many officers, how big, how much, are conversations we have to have with the Ministry of Finance (MOF), among others.

"But in principle, we have to first discuss it with the profession, and then talk to MOF and deal with the issue.

"In principle, our approach, I think might have to go down that route, and we are, at least my ministry - Ministry of Law - in favour of this approach," he said.

The minister was responding to Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC), who had asked about implementing such a scheme, during his ministerial statement on the Parti Liyani case.

Ms Parti, who worked for the family of former Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong, was sentenced to jail last year for stealing from the family.

She successfully appealed against her conviction, and her acquittal prompted questions about the criminal justice system's treatment of people who are less well-off.