Public Defender’s Office established to aid Singaporeans unable to afford legal representation

PDO applicants will be assessed on their financial circumstances and whether there are reasonable grounds of the case.

Fitri Mahad

Probably the only person that likes to hear the koels go ‘uwu’.

Published: 2 December 2022, 5:37 PM

The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) commenced operations on Thursday (Dec 1), providing criminal defence aid to Singaporeans or permanent residents who face non-capital criminal charges in Singapore and cannot afford to engage a lawyer.

Established under the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), it will enhance access to justice for vulnerable Singaporeans who find it challenging to afford legal representation, announced MinLaw on the same day. 

Criminal defence aid coverage has also been expanded to all types of criminal offences, with specific exceptions. The income limit has also been raised from the 25th percentile to the 35th percentile of resident households.

Those applying for criminal defence aid will be assessed by PDO, including means and merits tests on their “financial circumstances and whether there are reasonable grounds of the case”.

Eligible persons will be granted criminal defence aid and assigned a Public Defender to represent them. They may also be referred to Pro Bono SG and be represented by a volunteer private lawyer. Eligible accused persons will not get to choose between the Public Defender or a volunteer private lawyer.

The eligibility criteria includes being a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident, and being 21 years old and above. Applicants under 21 years old must have a parent or guardian apply on their behalf.

Urgent cases such as those involving minors who are turning 21 years old, or remand cases where the applicant’s “likely sentence would be less than their remand period” will also be represented by a public defender from the PDO. 

This is to ensure that legal representation is provided to the applicant as early as possible, said MinLaw. 

The remaining eligible cases, which will form the majority of cases, will be allocated between the PDO and Pro Bono SG.

The PDO is helmed by former deputy public prosecutor in the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) Wong Kok Weng.

Chief public defender Wong will oversee the operations and administration of the PDO and ensure that deserving applicants receive aid, added MinLaw. 

He will also appoint and assign public defenders to represent aided accused persons in court.

Those who wish to know more about the application process or wish to apply online can do so at PDO’s website.

In-person applications can also be done at the Ministry of Law Services Centre or the State Courts (Help Centre).

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