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)
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.