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Do more to support and develop pro bono work: Forum

Do more to support and develop pro bono work: Forum

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 15 Sep 2020

In addition to reviewing the support given to pro bono lawyers, we should also encourage law firms and law schools to disclose the number of hours that they dedicate to pro bono causes, as well as their notable achievements in handling such cases.

The case of former domestic worker Parti Liyani, who was acquitted of stealing, thanks to the work of a lawyer who took on her case pro bono, highlights the critical role of pro bono lawyers in protecting the less privileged in society and in upholding the rule of law in our country.

The authorities should review whether more can be done to support pro bono lawyers and the valuable service they provide to society at large.

Currently, volunteer lawyers for criminal cases are assigned by the Law Society's Pro Bono Services and paid an "honorarium" - an allowance - for the work they do.

It is not clear if the allowance takes into account the level of commitment that may be required of a pro bono lawyer.

In the case of Ms Parti, this translated into at least 25 days of court hearings and about 500 pages of submissions (for the trial and the appeal) by her lawyer Anil Balchandani. It would not be surprising if he had to spend two to three months of his personal and work time on this one case.

As much as I would like to applaud Mr Balchandani for his work, we should not expect our lawyers (especially not our top litigators, who are in high demand) to work without proper remuneration over such an extended period.

In addition to reviewing the support given to pro bono lawyers, we should also encourage law firms and law schools to disclose the number of hours that they dedicate to pro bono causes, as well as their notable achievements in handling such cases.

Like any other open market, the pro bono legal market can function optimally only if healthy competition is fostered.

In this sense, the case of Ms Parti should not be seen as the high watermark for what pro bono lawyers can accomplish. It should instead be the catalyst for greater appreciation and development of pro bono legal services in Singapore.

Peter Heng Teck Wee

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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