When you face criminal charges or are placed under arrest, one of the first things you are advised to do is get in touch with a lawyer. Businesses and organisations accused of criminal activity will take similar action, as the complex nature of the law makes it difficult to navigate without the assistance of an expert. Lawyers ensure your rights are upheld, offer guidance on how to plead in court and assist in establishing a defence where necessary.
But what happens if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer to defend you?
Thankfully, you aren’t thrown to the wolves just because you don’t have the money for legal representation. There are three main options available to you: a pro bono lawyer, legal aid or self-representation. Here’s what you need to know about each before you make a decision.
Option 1: Consult a Pro Bono Criminal Lawyer
Pro bono means without charge, and in a legal context it refers to lawyers who volunteer to offer their services for free to those who need it. What’s the catch? Nothing, save for finite resources. Various organisations have been established in Singapore with the aim of improving access to justice for all; these groups provide basic legal advice to the public through one-on-one consultations. They usually can’t offer formal representation due to the volume of enquiries, but the advice they offer might be all you need to be pointed in the right direction based on your circumstances. To access a criminal lawyer for pro bono consultation in Singapore, locate your nearest community legal clinic and get in touch to arrange a visit.
Option 2: Apply for Legal Aid
While legal aid is another form of free or low-cost assistance, it’s distinct from a pro bono consultation in that it involves a lawyer formally taking on your case. Legal aid can be provided at no cost or a subsidised rate depending on your financial position and is available in several forms:
- Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS): Free or discounted representation for people charged in court for offences that do not carry the death penalty. The accused must tell the court they are intending to apply for support through CLAS, which can be arranged through the Law Society.
- Primary Justice Project (PIP): Fixed-cost legal advice and support focused on resolving disputes before they reach court through settlements and mediation. You can contact the Community Justice Centre to apply for PIP, which is available for civil claims under $60,000, straightforward divorce cases, harassment cases and disputes between neighbours. The scheme is capped at $1,800 for 6 hours of service.
Option 3: Represent Yourself in Court (litigants in person)
Self-representation, also known as ‘litigants in person’, is when you defend yourself against the charges without the assistance of a lawyer. Anyone over the age of 18 who is not under any legal disability may represent themselves in a criminal case. If you take this route, you will be held to the same standards as lawyers in terms of:
- Complying with all the relevant rules and procedures
- Submitting required documents punctually and in the correct format
- Attending all court hearings on time and in a professional manner
- Familiarising yourself with the laws and legal principles relevant to your case
Self-representation is generally not advised given the complex nature of the law and the potential consequences of a poorly managed hearing. However, there are a wealth of online resources available to guide you through the process. As long as you are willing to respect the rules of the court and dedicate enough time to prepare for your hearing, you will be given an opportunity to defend your case on the relevant legal principles.
Visit the websites of bodies such as the Law Society, Community Justice Centre, State Courts and Supreme Courts for information on procedures and how to prepare for self-representation. Alternatively, get fast, free legal advice by contacting us online – we offer pro bono 30-minute phone consultations on criminal law, usually the very same day.