Leong Mun Wai

Speech on the Public Defender Bill

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Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise in support of the Bill. We commend the Government for putting forward this Bill to improve access to justice for the underprivileged in Singapore.

We are heartened that in the aftermath of the Parti Liyani case, the PAP government has followed through on its promise during the Singapore’s Justice System Motion to seriously consider and implement a Public Defender’s Office, or PDO. We are supportive of the general scope of offences that the PDO is intended to cover.

However, I think that the government can do more. Minister Shanmugam has proposed in his Ministerial Statement in April to peg the eligibility for criminal legal aid at a per capita gross monthly household income of $1,500.

We are of the view that this amount should be raised to $2,200, which is in line with our recommendation for Singapore to adopt a minimum living wage of $2,200 for Singaporeans.

The government may argue that this would be fiscally irresponsible and unnecessarily drive up costs.

However, we note that this Bill gives the Chief Public Defender the right to require applicants to co-pay for the legal cost.   A scaling co-payment model could easily be implemented to ensure that applicants pay their fair share of their defence, and yet at the same time increase access to legal representation for underprivileged people.   This will also increase the potential business for criminal lawyers.

Increasing access to justice cannot be measured in dollars and cents, and every person should have a chance to present his best case in court with legal representation. (Sir, Mandarin please)

我支持这个法案。我们前进党对政府推行这个帮助我国弱势群体获得更多法律援助的法案表示肯定。

我们高兴看到政府在莉雅妮案之后,履行它在司法体制改革动议上所做的承诺,认真考虑设立一个公共辩护人办公室,来提高法律援助的供给。这个辩护人办公室所涵盖的罪行种类,也是我们能接受的。

但是,我们希望政府可以进一步扩大申请刑事法律援助的收入资格。尚穆根部长在4月的部长声明中说,刑事法律援助的申请收入上限设为交税前家庭每月人均收入的$1,500。

我们认为这个数目应该提高到$2,200,也就是与我们前进党所建议的$2,200最低生活工资吻合的数目。

政府可能会说,这样做会增加不必要的政府开销,是一个不负责任的做法。但我们也了解到,首席公共辩护人有权力要求法律援助的申请人支付部分经费。 落实一个渐进式的共同支付模式,既能增加弱势群体所得到的法律支援,又能确保申请人公平地负担一部分的费用。

让人们获得更多司法公正的机会,不应该只用金钱来衡量。每个人都应该在法庭上享有最好的辩护的权利。

所以我们支持这个法案的同时,也建议将刑事法律援助的申请收入资格提高到家庭每月人均收入的$2,200。

To conclude, Sir, I support the Bill and propose that the eligibility criteria for criminal legal aid be pegged to a per capita gross monthly household income of $2,200. Thank you.

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