SINGAPORE, 31 January 2023 – Pro Bono SG's inaugural Community Law Centre officially opened today to bring legal assistance closer to those with mobility and technology challenges and holistically help vulnerable members of the community facing legal issues, hand in hand with community partners such as Family Service Centres, Social Service Offices and Social Service Agencies.
To mark this special occasion, Guest-of-Honour Minister Edwin Tong SC, volunteers, donors and community partners such as social workers, attended the launch event, which included an opening ceremony of the Community Law Centre at Tian De Temple, a presentation of supporter awards, cultural performances, and a video showcasing the genesis of the Community Law Centre.
The Community Law Centre is the outcome of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Pro Bono SG, R. S. Soloman Foundation, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and Tian De Temple on 20 August 2022. The Community Law Centre was set up in container offices on Tian De Temple's premises that is in close proximity to rental flats and at least 40 community partners. R. S. Solomon Foundation (established by R. S. Solomon LLC), mobilised the key funding support required to set up the Community Law Centre. SUSS will be supporting the Community Law Centre's manpower needs by recommending suitable graduates to be recruited as full-time lawyers and students for internship opportunities.
The Community Law Centre will:
(1) Facilitate or provide legal representation to socially excluded persons;
(2) Develop robust cross-referral networks with community partners in each district to provide legal assistance alongside non-legal support services to socially excluded persons in the community;
(3) Provide training and support to community partner staff and, where relevant, their volunteers in identifying potential unmet legal needs among socially excluded beneficiaries, including referring those persons for follow-up assistance at the Community Law Centre;
(4) Provide training and support to volunteer lawyers serving at Pro Bono SG's network of community legal clinics and pro bono representation schemes;
(5) Conduct law awareness talks for socially excluded persons/their caregivers to equip them with functional legal knowledge of their rights and protections; and
(6) Build up a corpus of best practices and knowledge database to guide excellence in integrated legal care.
Between August to September 2022, Pro Bono SG administered a legal needs survey to Family Service Centres and Social Service Offices to better understand the challenges faced by social workers when assisting clients with legal problems, and how the Community Law Centre may provide holistic and practical support to the social workers and their clients. Around 56% of FSCs and SSOs in Singapore responded to the survey. Pro Bono SG also engaged more than 50 social workers serving beneficiaries living in the North East.
The social workers who responded to the survey identified that around 17% to 25% of their clients face legal problems and identified the top five legal case types as Family, Immigration, Criminal, Estate matters and Neighbour disputes.
The top challenges identified by social workers included:
(1) Their lack of sufficient legal knowledge to support clients facing legal problems;
(2) The lack of legal support for clients who do not qualify for national legal aid schemes, such as transnational families and those who fail the means test of such schemes, but who are still unable to afford a lawyer;
(3) The lack of access in terms of factors including physical proximity to legal aid and ability to use technology.
The survey also asked how the setting up of the Community Law Centre can help social workers serve their clients more holistically. 12.5% of the respondents suggested that the Community Law Centre be more accessible to lower-income clients in terms of location (e.g. in heartlands, near rental flats).
The Community Law Centre also aims to build the capacity of the social sector through:
(1) Webinars, talks or training for the social sector on commonly-faced legal issues;
(2) Providing community professionals with direct access to lawyers to provide general guidance on legal processes and other related questions at legal clinics and/or Communities of Practice;
(3) Providing community professionals with additional information/alternative avenues of aid in the event that the clients do not qualify for other national legal aid schemes. These avenues include Pro Bono SG's law awareness initiatives, legal clinics, Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, Family Justice Support Scheme and Ad Hoc Pro Bono Scheme.
Pro Bono SG will closely monitor the Community Law Centre's impact during the two-year pilot. There are plans to set up additional centres in the four remaining districts in Singapore to enhance access to justice for all, subject to the success of the pilot and funding.
Gregory Vijayendran SC, Pro Bono SG's Chairman, addressing the guests at the launch, said, “It is not an either-or proposition for lawyers to be healers. We are called to embrace some facets of healing, whether peace-making, mediation, counselling or problem solving, to impact a community that is troubled. Our profession is one that heals. We look forward to working closely with our community partners on the same healing team to deliver integrated legal care to those in need.”
Raymond Wang, Chairman of Tian De Temple, shared, "A temple is not just a place for praying. We should extend our help to the community regardless of race and religion. I hope that setting up the Community Law Centre within Tian De Temple will inspire and encourage other religious communities to enhance their services by providing more community-related services to the public and their devotees."
Richard Siaw, The Law Society of Singapore's Pro Bono Ambassador 2022/2023 and Managing Director of R. S. Solomon LLC, shared, "Community Law Centre will transform the way community lawyering is done. Community Law Fellows will be in the heartlands with the people and together with the other frontline social agencies, provide holistic solutions to the multifaceted issues confronting the underprivileged and the temporary downtrodden residents. You may even see Community Law Fellows on bicycles, doing house calls to render legal service. "Lawyers on Wheels", just like our friendly neighbourhood police officers on bicycles."
Associate Professor Alvin Cheng, SUSS School of Law, said, "At SUSS, our vision is to be the leading university for social good. For SUSS law school, our focus is to train and produce future lawyers who will practice community law. This collaboration creates an opportunity for our students to both gain valuable learning and experience on the ground, as well as to give back to society. The legal profession has a long and proud tradition of volunteerism. We hope to instill such a spirit of volunteerism amongst our law students and graduates – to serve and contribute to the community."
Members of the public and community partners may contact the Community Law Centre through the following modes.
Community Law Centre operational hours:
Address: Community Law Centre @ Tian De Temple, 109 Hougang Ave 5, Singapore 538817
Email: [email protected]
Hotline: 6536 0650
Office operating hours: Monday to Friday, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm. Closed on weekends and public holidays.
Hotline operating hours: Monday to Friday, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Closed on weekends and public holidays.
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About Pro Bono SG
Pro Bono SG is a registered charity and Institution of a Public Character (UEN: 201700430E).
Pro Bono SG helps bring free legal assistance to those in need in our community to ensure access to justice for all. Pro Bono SG runs various programmes to (a) serve the community (b) support its volunteers and (c) assist or collaborate on pro bono initiatives with other agencies.
For more information, please visit www.probono.sg.
About R. S. Solomon Foundation
R. S. Solomon Foundation was set up by R. S. Solomon LLC in 2021 to promote access to justice. The Foundation provides funding and assistance to economically disadvantaged litigants with worthy causes, and is deeply involved in outreach and education efforts to equip Singaporeans with practical legal knowledge. The Foundation has partnered closely with Pro Bono SG, Tian De Temple and SUSS in the establishment of the Community Law Fellowship Programme, and has donated $50,000 to this cause.
About Singapore University of Social Sciences
SUSS is a university with a rich heritage in inspiring lifelong education, and transforming society through applied social sciences. We develop work-ready graduates and work-adaptive alumni to their fullest potential through our 3H's education philosophy – 'Head' for professional competency with applied knowledge, 'Heart' for social awareness to meet the needs of the society, and 'Habit' for passion towards lifelong learning.
We offer over 90 undergraduate and graduate programmes, available in full- and part-time study modes, which are flexible, modular and inter-disciplinary, catering to both fresh school leavers and adult learners. SUSS also offers a broad range of continuing education and training modular courses for the professional skills upgrading of Singapore's workforce.
Our programmes and courses are offered by our five schools:
- S R Nathan School of Human Development
- School of Business
- School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences
- School of Law
- School of Science and Technology
To date, over 44,000 graduates have experienced our unique brand of education, and each year, about 21,000 students are pursuing their full- and part-time studies with us.
The Institute for Adult Learning (IAL), as part of SUSS, leads in the field of research on adult learning to build capabilities of the training and adult education sector in Singapore and beyond.
For more information on SUSS, please visit www.suss.edu.sg
About Tian De Temple
Tian De Temple is joint temple of its four constituent temples, Hougang Twee Boey Teng Niang Temple, Chang Tien Kong Temple, Zhong Tou Gong Temple and Poh Teck Siang Tng. All four temples have a long history of philanthropy and providing help in the community, regardless of race or religion.
Tian De Temple facilitates social welfare work among communities in Hougang through food distribution, regular donations to the needy and disbursing bursaries to students and medical assistants.
For more information on Tian De Temple, please visit 109 Hougang Ave 5, Singapore 538817