Understanding the Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) and How to Obtain Legal Aid In Singapore. A divorce is an emotionally and financially draining life changing process. This process should only be used as a measure of last resort if you have exhausted other means of alternatives and that you are mentally and financially prepared for the upcoming process. Divorce fees depending on the individual’s circumstances may reach astronomical amounts, if you are unable to afford a divorce lawyer, you may approach the Legal Aid Bureau for assistance.
1. Role Of The Legal Aid Bureau

The Legal Aid Bureau (“LAB”) is a department under the Ministry of Law of the government of Singapore. Their mission is to provide quality legal aid, advice and assistance to underprivileged Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents (“PRs”) who are of limited means and are unable to afford legal services in relation to civil matters.

This mission ensures that every individual has a right to equal access to justice, without prejudice to your financial background.

Aside from providing legal aid, the LAB also teams up with government and community organisations to provide emotional support to applicants, providing them with more than just a legal solution to their problems.

2. How The Legal Aid Bureau Works?

2.1 Professionals involved in the Legal Aid Bureau

The Legal Aid Bureau handles nearly 10, 000 cases with 60% requiring court representation, 30% requiring court advice and the rest in legal assistance in drafting documents.

The Director of Legal Aid heads the bureau, and he or she has the authority to maintain a panel of solicitors who handle the legal aid cases. These solicitors consist of both the bureau’s in-house lawyers and around 600 solicitors who volunteer their time and services as assigned solicitors. There are also solicitors that handle special cases that require certain areas of expertise, such as those in Syariah law.

These family lawyers are well equipped and trained, and capable of providing the same legal representation to those less privileged, as given to other clients.

2.2 Services provided by the Legal Aid Bureau

The Legal Aid Bureau provides the following services:

(a) Oral legal advice by the LAB lawyers on questions on Singapore divorce procedures and specific practical advice depending on the circumstances of the case.

(b) Legal representation in civil court proceedings, such as those in the Family Court (i.e. High Court and the Court of Appeal, District and Magistrates’ Courts), Syariah Court and under the Women’s Charter.

(c) Legal assistance in drafting legal documents (e.g. Deeds of separation)

(d) Marriage Counselling for distressed individuals, especially with regards to divorce or other personal matters

2.3 Cases Handled By The Legal Aid Bureau

While the Legal Aid Bureau covers other civil cases such as estate matters, tenancy disputes, contractual claims and negligence claims, the bulk of the cases handled by the LAB involve divorce and it’s ancillary matters, making them well trained and experienced in such cases.
The LAB only handles civil proceedings that can be dealt with the Singapore courts and tribunals where legal representation is permitted.

Therefore, they do not cover criminal matters and certain civil proceedings such as the following:

Defamation cases
Proceedings before Small Claims Tribunals
Tribunal for maintenance of parents
Proceedings for maintenance
Proceedings for Personal Protection Orders where the opposing party is not legally represented.

3. Application Procedures

3.1 Eligibility For Legal Aid

The process flowchart for obtaining legal aid from the Legal Aid Bureau in Singapore is as follows:

Legal Aid Bureau Process Flowchart (Huffe)

Legal Aid Bureau Process Flowchart (Huffe)

3.2 So Do I Qualify For Legal Aid?

Following the Legal Aid and Advice Act (Chapter 160 of Singapore), you must fulfil certain criteria in order to receive legal aid (Note: If you are aged 21 years and below, your parent or guardian must apply on your behalf):-

(a) Be a Singaporean citizen or PR and be present in Singapore

(b) The assistance you require must be that of a personal matter (i.e. Non-business related)

(c) You must pass the “Means Test

(d) You must pass the “Merits Test

Nevertheless, it is important to note that depending on the circumstances of the case, the Director of Legal Aid has ultimate discretion and thus may refuse to grant legal aid if it appears to him or her that it is unreasonable that you receive it.

Therefore, in certain circumstances, your application for legal aid may be refused even if you pass the means test.

Legal aid will also not be granted in a situation where an applicant admits full liability of the claim against them and wants the LAB to assist in negotiations with their creditors (e.g. For debt to be paid in instalments or for the debt to be reduced).

3.3 Process Of Applying For Legal Aid

Do take note that this is merely a general guide as to how your case may be processed, but the facts of every case will affect how it gets processed.

4. Being Granted Legal Aid

4.1 What You Are Entitled To

If you are successful in your application of legal aid, the following will apply to you:

You will not be liable in respect of any of the proceedings to which the legal aid certificate relates for court fees or fees payable for the service of process or fees due to the Sheriff in relation to executing the process.

You will be entitled to be supplied free of charge, with a copy of the judge’s notes of evidence in any proceedings which the legal aid certificate relates to.

You will not be liable for costs to any other party in any proceedings which the legal aid certificate relates.

5. Contribution Fees

It is important to know that legal aid will not be free of charge even if it is granted. Most individuals will still be required to pay a contribution fee towards the cost of the work for the case, which will go into a legal aid fund. Legal costs and interests paid by the opposing party goes into this fund as well.

Nevertheless, the contribution payable is dependent on factors such as your financial means, the nature of the case, the amount of work done and the amount of money recovered for you.
The total contribution usually does not exceed $1,500, though it may be more in some cases:

(a) The first instalment of this payment is usually required before any work is done and a second installment is to be made upon the completion of the case.

(b) Representation in the Family Court by the Legal Aid Bureau usually begins once the contribution has been made

(c) Other charges you may have to pay includes essential costs incurred in preparing the documents fort he case (e.g. Medical reports and fees incurred in serving court documents to the opposing party).

These payments can be paid online (which will require a minimum sum of $10 and a reference number), or at the bureau, in cash or NETS. For ongoing payments, GIRO payments may be arranged.

6. Completion Of The Case

Your case will be deemed as complete once the court proceedings are completed. This may be after the court has made an order or when you and the opposing party decide to settle the matter out of court.

This may also happen if either you or the opposing party has withdrawn or discontinued the court proceedings.

7. Outcome Of The Case

7.1 What Happens After Winning Or Losing The Case

If you win the case, the Family Justice Court may order costs to be paid by the opposing party to the Director of Legal Aid.

However, even if you lose the case, you will usually not be ordered by the court to pay the costs to the opposing party. However, there may be situations in which you may be required to do so, such as when the court reveals that the legal aid was obtained through fraud, misrepresentation or improper conduct in the proceedings.

7.2 Appealing The Decision

If you are not satisfied with the Family Court’s decision and wish to appeal, you must immediately go to the Bureau after the court has given it’s order. This is because of the stringent time limit in filing for an appeal, where the Bureau may not be able to assist you if there is a very narrow time limit.

Apart from this, the appeal case will be once again be examined upon its merits and if there is a narrow time limit to do so, there will be insufficient time to go through the relevant tests again.

8. Cancellation Of Legal Aid

8.1 Situations Which Will Result In The Cancellation Of Legal Aid

There are certain situations where the Legal Aid Board may cancel the grant of legal aid, such as the following:-

You require the lawyer to conduct the proceedings in a way that it incurs an unjustifiable expense

You are insistent on continuing the proceedings without reasons

You willfully fail to disclose any mandatory information

You falsely represented information when the Bureau was collecting information

You request for the legal aid to be cancelled

You failed to pay the assessed contribution after several reminders to do so

You willfully failed to comply with the law as to information to be provided by you, or providing false statements

You were proven to have failed the Means Test upon further information being provided to the Bureau

You no longer have reasonable grounds for the case to be continued

You are deemed unreasonable to continue to receive legal aid

8.2 After Legal Aid Is Cancelled

After the grant of legal aid is cancelled, the Bureau will no longer legally represent you. You will then decide whether you want to continue with the case in person or engage an alternative divorce lawyer to represent you.

If no action is taken on your part to continue with the case, the Family Justice Court may strike out your case.

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Founder and Principal Lawyer
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Beatrice Yeo Poh Tiang

Having handled over 10,000 divorces since 2006, Ms. Beatrice Yeo, the Founder and Principal Lawyer of the firm, is widely acknowledged as one of the best divorce lawyers in Singapore.

She has extensive experience in all aspects of Matrimonial Law, including Nullity Proceedings, Contested & Uncontested Divorce and Mediation.

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