– Members of the legal fraternity and the public are invited to provide further feedback to fine tune a scheme for practising lawyers to provide free legal services to those who have difficulty gaining access to such services.
In October last year, the Singapore Academy of Law (“SAL”) circulated a discussion paper to seek feedback on the proposed Community Legal Services (“CLS”) scheme which mooted the idea of making it compulsory for lawyers to do 16 hours of pro bono legal work in a year. A wide variety of views were received from individuals as well as institutional respondents.
The respondents were overwhelmingly of the view that pro bono work was an integral part of legal practice. Respondents also felt that the driving idea behind CLS to facilitate access to justice for those that could not afford aid was laudable. However, the majority felt that the legal profession was not ready to make pro bono legal work compulsory and that there should be phased implementation of CLS.
Some respondents were concerned that the mandatory nature of CLS would run contrary to the spirit of volunteerism. However, the Committee studying the CLS initiatives headed by Judge of Appeal Justice V K Rajah (“the Committee”) is of the view that a mandatory scheme will not undermine the virtue or spirit of volunteerism. Many practitioners have been quietly contributing their services and a mandatory scheme should not deter them from doing so. The Committee believes that such a scheme will remind all practitioners that the legal profession has an enduring obligation (where possible) to assist the less advantaged members of society.
A variety of views were also expressed over whether CLS should only be applicable to lawyers with practising certificates, and the scope of what areas CLS should cover. For instance, some respondents felt that CLS should include other work that was not purely legal in nature.
The Committee has taken on board the feedback obtained. Balancing the different views and concerns, it has proposed that a first step be taken, that will consist of two components: (i) an aspirational target of pro bono hours; and (ii) mandatory reporting of the number of pro bono hours completed each year. The mandatory reporting system is aimed at making lawyers aware of their professional responsibility to use their legal expertise to give back to the community.
Equally important, the data collected from the mandatory reporting process will yield a better understanding of the pro bono landscape. The next step of having the legal fraternity fulfil a mandatory minimum number of pro bono hours, can only be decided when sufficient data has been collected. As such, there is at present no fixed timeline for the implementation of the next stage. There will be further consultation at that point.
A second discussion paper (please see Annex A) will be disseminated from today to seek views on the implementation of CLS in two stages. Interested parties may check the SAL website (www.sal.org.sg) for details and email their views to [email protected] The deadline for submissions is 12 noon on 14 May 2013.
The Singapore Academy of Law (the “Academy”) is the umbrella body of the legal community in Singapore and has close to 10,000 members.
The work of the Academy is focused on three key areas: supporting the growth and development of the Legal Industry; building up the intellectual capital of the legal profession by enhancing Legal Knowledge; and improving the efficiency of legal practice through Legal Technology. The work of the Academy is driven by these three core mandates. This in turn is directed towards raising the standard and quality of legal practice and building a strong and dynamic legal community in Singapore.
Besides its role as the official law reporting agency in Singapore, the Academy’s other functions include providing continuing legal education for its members, publishing legal literature, promoting legal research and legal studies, the reform and development of the law and alternative dispute resolution.