Can’t Afford a Lawyer? How to Get Legal Aid in Singapore
If you can’t afford to pay the full costs of hiring a lawyer, fret not. This article details the different legal aid schemes in Singapore for those who face financial difficulty in hiring lawyers (whether for court cases, or whether you are a charity/Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) or a foreigner) and how you can go about applying for these schemes.
What is the Difference between Legal Aid and Legal Clinics?
Legal aid services involve the appointment of a lawyer to your case to assist you with your legal matters, either free of charge or at a subsidised rate. Such assistance can include representation in court, legal advice on your matter or drafting legal documents such as wills. Legal aid services are provided by the government.
On the other hand, legal clinics offer pro bono (i.e. free of charge) legal consultations on how you can proceed with your legal matter. Legal clinics can be run by the government or by non-profit organisations.
What are the Legal Aid Services in Singapore?
We’ve categorised the legal aid services according to:
You may click on the links above to jump to the relevant section that you’re interested in.
1) Legal aid for court cases
Legal Aid Bureau (LAB)
The Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) under the Ministry of Law offers services for civil matters. This includes legal aid for divorce, custody and probate matters, legal advice and legal assistance in drafting wills and contracts.
Legal aid under LAB is available for the following parties:
- Singapore citizens and permanent residents;
- Citizens or residents of contracting states involved in applications under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
If you are below the age of 21, your guardian or parent must apply on your behalf.
Please take note that LAB does not handle:
- Criminal proceedings;
- Certain civil proceedings such as:
To be granted legal aid, you will need to pass a means test (to determine your financial eligibility for legal aid) and a merits test (to determine whether there is a reasonable chance of your case succeeding in court) to be granted legal aid.
From 16 October 2019 onwards, if you do not pass the means test, the LAB’s independent panel will assess your case and decide whether to exercise its discretion to grant you legal aid (provided that you also pass the merits test).
Legal aid is not free of charge as most applicants will have to pay a sum towards the costs of the work done for their case. This amount is assessed according to factors such as:
- Your financial means
- The nature of your case
- The amount of money to be recovered for you
The amount to be paid will usually not exceed S$1,500. Your appointed lawyer will usually only start representing you after you have paid this amount.
If you are unable to pay the required amount in full, you must inform LAB and ask to be allowed to pay in instalments.
To apply for legal aid under the LAB, you can either apply online or in person at the LAB from Mondays to Fridays, 8.30am to 5pm at 45 Maxwell Road, #07-11 The URA Centre (East Wing), Singapore 069118.
Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS)
The Law Society’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) provides pro-bono legal assistance to persons who are facing charges in court for non-death penalty criminal offences and who are unable to afford a lawyer. This is done through the assignment of a volunteer lawyer to handle your case. Non-death penalty offences that fall under the following statutes are covered by CLAS:
- Arms & Explosives Act
- Arms Offences Act
- Computer Misuse Act
- Corrosive & Explosive Substances & Offensive Weapons Act
- Dangerous Fireworks Act
- Enlistment Act
- Explosive Substances Act
- Films Act
- Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act
- Misuse of Drugs Act
- Moneylenders Act (Sections 14 & 28)
- Penal Code
- Prevention of Corruption Act
- Undesirable Publications Act
- Vandalism Act
- Women’s Charter (Sections 65(8) and 140(1)(i))
You should inform the court of your intention to engage a lawyer if you intend to apply to CLAS. Similar to obtaining legal aid at LAB, one must also pass the means test and merits test to be eligible for legal aid under the CLAS.
Depending on the results of your means test, you may be required to pay CLAS a co-payment amount before a lawyer can be assigned to you. This is in addition to paying for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by your lawyer in the course of handling your case. For example, the costs for obtaining police statements or reports.
You can apply for legal aid under CLAS via email, post or in person at the CLAS Office. The CLAS Office is located at The State Courts of Singapore, Level 5 (office beside Court No. 5), 1 Havelock Square, Singapore 059724.
Primary Justice Project (PIP)
The Primary Justice Project (PJP) is run by the Community Justice Centre. The PJP enables persons who are unable to engage a lawyer to make more informed choices about their cases before taking legal action.
This legal aid service covers:
- Civil claims below $60,000;
- Divorce matters with most ancillary matters close to settlement;
- Representation on behalf of an unrepresented accused person during the Criminal Case Management System (CCMS) or the Criminal Case Resolution (CCR) process. This will include at least one round of written or oral representations to the prosecutors;
- Harassment cases and neighbour disputes.
The PJP provides legal consultation at a fixed fee of $1,800 (excluding GST and other disbursements) for 6 hours. This amount includes a legal fee and an administrative fee. For a specific breakdown of the payment, please visit the PJP website.
Interested parties may approach the Community Justice Centre located at 1 Havelock Square, Level 1 State Courts Complex, Singapore 059724, to apply for the PJP.
Legal Aid Scheme for Capital Offences (LASCO)
Persons charged with capital offences – offences that carry the death penalty – are automatically assigned legal counsel by the state under the Legal Aid Scheme for Capital Offences (LASCO) free of charge. No means test or other eligibility criteria is imposed. In most cases, two counsels will be assigned – one to lead, and one to assist – to represent you at trial and on appeal.
2) Legal aid for charities/NGOs
Project Law Help (PLH)
If you are a community organisation in Singapore with the aim of addressing community needs and that requires legal advice and/or services, Project Law Help (PLH) may be able to match you to law firms which provide free non-litigation legal services. Examples of such services include:
- Corporate law (e.g. advice on contracts with suppliers, indemnity agreements for corporate sponsors, drafting pledges for donors);
- Employment law (e.g. drafting or reviewing employment contracts);
- Intellectual property law (e.g. advice on copyright, data protection, website use);
- Property law (e.g. lease terms); and
- Other legal matters not involving litigation advice or representation.
Successful applicants will work directly with the assigned law firm. To apply, contact PLH at AssistNPOs@lawsocprobono.org.
3) Legal aid for foreigners
Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME)
The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) provides free legal aid to migrant workers facing issues such as workplace abuse.
If you are a foreign worker seeking work injury compensation, it is also possible for you to claim compensation by yourself without hiring a lawyer. For more information, check out our article on work injury compensation.
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is an organisation which assists low-wage migrant workers. It ensures that these workers’ workplace rights have not been violated, among other aims.
TWC2 runs several programmes, such as “Social Worker Always There” (SWAT), which offers legal advice to migrant workers experiencing cases of workplace injury, abuse, or late salary payments.
If you are in need of such services, you can visit their office at Transient Workers Count Too, 5001 Beach Road, #09-86, Golden Mile Complex, Singapore 199588, or contact them at the following:
Phone: +65 6247 7001
Helpline: 1800 888 1515
Justice Without Borders (JWB)
Justice Without Borders (JWB) is an NGO that provides legal aid to migrant workers and domestic maids from Indonesia and the Philippines who need assistance with cases of abuse or any other workplace violations.
JWB works with pro bono lawyers to help these workers seek compensation, even after they have returned home.
When you approach JWB for assistance, you will need to submit all relevant evidence.
For salary-related claims, such evidence could include your employment contract, immigration documents and payslips. For abuse or injury claims, you may need to prepare copies of your medical records, police report and any photographs of your injuries.
To apply, you can contact +65 6871 8757 or visit JWB’s Singapore office at 16 Kallang Place, #07-01/02/03, Singapore 339156.
Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST)
FAST provides free mediation services to resolve issues and disputes between foreign domestic workers and their employers, in the presence of an accredited mediator. According to FAST, it has conducted over 50 mediations to date, and have mostly achieved 100% proper closure for the parties involved.
To consult FAST and book a slot, you can call them at 65091535 or email them here. Their office is located at 2985 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-1B, SMF Building, Singapore 159457.
If you do not qualify for the schemes discussed here, you can consider using our Call a Lawyer service where you can get a 20-minute phone consultation with a lawyer on your legal matter within 24 hours for just $59.
Alternatively, try our free Find a Lawyer service for obtaining and comparing quotations from multiple lawyers.