NUS PBG EXCO 2015/2016

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Two batches of PBG Exco members as well as PBG’s external partners and faculty advisors gathered for the annual general meeting on 2 May

On 2 May 2015, after the Year 1s had rounded off their first year of law school with their final exams, two batches of PBG Executive Committee members gathered for PBG’s annual general meeting (AGM). The meeting brought together the people who had worked tirelessly over the past year to build PBG’s programmes and outreach – the incoming Exco, the outgoing Exco, external partners, as well as our faculty advisors Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge and Professor Sheila Hayre.

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Outgoing PBG President, Lim Wei Zhen, reflected on her experience and expressed her appreciation for our partners’ support

Outgoing PBG President, Lim Wei Zhen, reflected on her term in office and presented PBG’s partners, including representatives from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Justice Without Borders, with a token of appreciation – a cactus – in recognition of their contribution towards growing the local pro bono landscape. The AY14/15 Exco also provided updates and outlined key developments in their respective projects. Notably, there have been new initiatives, such as Syariah Court Friends (SCF), which give volunteers the opportunity to facilitate processes at the Syariah Courts, and Thai-ed With Love, where PBG members tied up with Khon Kaen University in Thailand to exchange ideas on pro bono. Following that, incoming President Cheryl Lim expressed her appreciation for the work the outgoing Exco had done and shared her hope that the incoming Exco would be able to build upon these strong foundations to strengthen PBG as an organisation and better serve the community.

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PBG is thankful for the support of its partners and faculty advisors in the years since its inception

We are glad to announce the PBG Executive Committee for AY2015/16, as follows:-

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

President: Cheryl Lim

Vice-President (External): Douglas Leow

Vice-President (Internal): Shawn Teo

Secretary: Alvin Chua

Treasurer: Claudia Lee

Publicity Directors: Amelia Chew & Samuel Ling

PROJECT DIRECTORS 

University Court Friends (UCF)

Co-Head: Estella Low

Co-Head: Sandra Lye

Syariah Court Friends (SCF)

Head: Ijechi Nazirah Nwaozuzu

Legal Education and Awareness Programme (LEAP)

Head: Sarah Thaker

Vice-Head: Asher Chin

Vice-Head: Charmaine Saw

Legal Clinics

Co-Head: Chester Yan

Co-Head: Lavinya Arun Velu

Project Law Help (PLH)

Head: Chua Jia Ying

Vice-Head: Jess Cheong

Legal Research

Head: Chong Shi Cheng

Moot Parliament Programme

Head: Bertrice Hsu

Students 4 Migrants (S4M)

Co-Head: Cai Xiaohan

Co-Head: Phoebe Tan

International Affairs Division (IAD)

Head: Josephine Yip

Vice-Head: Rebecca Koh

After consultation with the PBG Exco of AY14/15, several changes were made to the PBG Exco structure. The PBG Executive Committee has been streamlined and now comprise seven members who will focus on developing PBG as an organization while the Project Directors manage their individual projects. Several roles, such as that of the Events Directors and the Project Development Directors, have been subsumed into existing roles. The Executive Committee will be responsible for helming key PBG events, such as Cohesion, with the support of the Project Directors. Project development will also be led by the Project Directors in collaboration with their respective partners.

The new PBG Exco and Project Directors welcome the challenge they face in the upcoming year and have identified key areas of focus, including fostering a more cohesive PBG identity, strengthening existing projects and providing a more significant value-add to PBG members. Key developments are already underway, including the development of an application process to select new PBG members. Several projects such as University Court Friends (UCF) and the Legal Education and Awareness Programme (LEAP) have kickstarted their summer runs.

The next time PBG convenes will be during Cohesion on Saturday, 29 August, where we welcome new members. The PBG Exco and Project Directors for AY15/16 look forward to serving you and continuing the good work of our seniors in contributing to the pro bono scene in Singapore.

NUS PBG EXCO 2014/2015

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Members of the Pro Bono Group were gathered at the Staff Lounge for the elections

It was the annual Pro Bono Group Elections on Wednesday, 19 March 2014.

First, congratulations are in order. A big congratulations to Wei Zhen, the newly elected President, and Vu Lan, the newly elected Vice-President.

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Our President and Vice President Candidates, Vu Lan, Ashley, Ting Fang, Wei Zhen and Sneha (Left to Right)

The afternoon saw many heart felt speeches by the candidates. Many of the candidates shared their motivations behind their passion and enthusiasm for pro bono and community work. We really had a stellar bunch of candidates that applied this year.

It is no surprise that all the candidates were elected into the Executive Committee eventually.

So with no further ado, the NUS Pro Bono Group would like to introduce the Executive Committee of the NUS Pro Bono Group for Academic year 2014/2015.

President: Lim Wei Zhen
Vice-President: Nguyen Vu Lan
Secretary: Lee Shu Qing
Treasurer: Matthew Poh
Project Development Director (Overseas): Swathi Bhat
Project Development Director (Local): Clara Lim
Events Director: Ashley Loh
Events Director: Ashley Tan
Publicity Director: Angela Ang
Student for Migrants Director: Sneha Gupta
Student for Migrants Director: Josephine Yip
LEAP Director: Joey Ng
LEAP Director: Jethro Leong
Legal Research Director: Chan Jia Sheng
Legal Clinics Director: Wang Yufei
Legal Clinics Director: Loh Tiankai
MPP Director: David Crawshaw
Project Law Help Director: Joshua Kow
UCF Director: Chua Cheng Aik
UCF Director: Chua Ting Fang
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The EXCO is noticeably larger in numbers this coming academic year
In light of the Mandatory Pro Bono Scheme, we have expanded our executive committee to a total of 20 members and 3 ICs, to provide a stronger infrastructure to support more students when the mandatory hours start counting.
Alongside the 20 exco members listed below, we have been blessed with the support of Jayaraman Sanjana who will be exploring the development of a Coroporate Pro Bono project, Jerrold Au who will be spearheading a project with a focus on children as the beneficiaries, and Jolynn Lim who will be sitting on the Local Organising Committee of the 3rd Southeast Asia Pro Bono Conference.
It is hoped that with a larger team, the Pro Bono Group would be able to provide for more opportunities for the students to pursue a myriad of pro bono activities.
Do give the new EXCO all the support and love!
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The new EXCO 
Warmest Regards,
NUS Pro Bono Group
Executive Committee 2013/2014.

 

Volunteering at the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic

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Editor’s Note: 
Issues relating to migrant workers have recently come under the spotlight. Read about how it was like volunteering at the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic for Vanessa, Charmaine and Wei Zhen. 
What is the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic?
Migrant Worker Legal Clinic is an initiative jointly organised by the Law Society of Singapore’s Pro Bono Services Office and Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), providing free legal counselling services for work permit and S pass holders. The help-centre is strategically located in Geylang next to the Aljunied MRT, which is where many worker dormitories are situated. MWC staff who are fluent in the native languages of the migrant workers will be present to provide interpretation services if needed.

The legal clinic helps to ameliorate the power imbalance between employers and workers, because of the workers’ lack of knowledge of their legal rights and our legal procedures, by providing a simple and free avenue for workers to obtain legal advice and information. Workers typically do not have access to such information because of language barriers and high costs involved in seeking legal help, which can leave them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Meritorious cases may be channeled to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme through the legal clinic, where Pro Bono Services Office will assign a defence counsel to represent the workers for free in court.

Surprises

Coming to MWC’s inaugural legal clinic session, we were surprised to find that our first case involved not an individual worker, but 4 workers facing the same salary dispute with the same company.  In response to this new situation, besides going through the usual procedure of interviewing each individual worker, we also deviated slightly by addressing and advising the 4 workers collectively as a whole afterwards. This proved to be very helpful as we later learnt that this problem was much more widespread and that a good number of other workers were similarly in the same predicament, arising out of the employer’s bad practices.

Our second surprise came when the second case involved not a migrant worker per se, but a migrant social worker bringing a case for the sakes of migrant workers. This was a really heartening twist to the typical salary and injury claims workers bring, and it was encouraging to witness how even Malaysians were so willing to help out migrant workers.

We can only say the experience was a humbling one.

Having volunteered with migrant worker NGOs previously, we were humbled as these two cases were so complex and so different from our past experiences. It was humbling, because the cases were not just diverse, but exhibited various shades of complexity, opening our eyes a little wider to seeing and comprehending the enormity of issues that could besiege workers simply due to their status as being in transit between Singapore and their home country. It was humbling, because it showed us how there were limits to what lawyers and the law could do. It was humbling, because it showed us how much more work there needs to be done in this area.

As the workers walked off with a clearer idea of the solutions available to them, we too walked away with a clearer idea of how we could be part of the solution. This legal clinic session did not just add to our understanding of the common problems that besiege workers. It also showed us how we, in our personal capacities as law students, could fit in the framework of helping to resolve those specific legal issues.

Article Contributed By:

Vanessa Chiam, Charmaine Yap, Lim Wei Zhen (NUS Law Year 1s)

A Night to be Remembered

As far as Friday evenings go, nowhere are they more appreciated in than Law School. The 4th of October was no exception even though the Pro Bono Group was still in school for our very own cohesion at the Upper Quad long after the last tutorial ended. A good sky graced the evening and with the fluffy pillows and bamboo mats on the field, who could have asked for a better way to end the week and get together as a group?

As the crowd slowly streamed in so did good humour. Getting into the mood, everyone, courtesy of comical props and silly antics, realized a few digital memories at a photobooth foreshadowing the upcoming Halloween celebrations.

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And yes, everyone means everyone

Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge opened the event with a speech reinforcing the significance of the Pro Bono Group’s efforts and how it is ultimately a privilege to use the skills we acquire in law school for the greater good in our pro bono work. It was a heartening reminder that we had come together as a club to celebrate that privilege.

Short and succinct was the speech, to the gratitude of the many hungry souls. The cohesion then started in earnest with the serving of food and up-beat performances by our talented peers taking us into the evening.

singerKenii took us through most of the evening with his crooning and ended off by telling us what the fox says

After many rousing songs and good company, the night soon came to a close. Judging from the sea of happy faces, it was indeed another enjoyable evening out on the Upper Quad.

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A round of applause for the talents on show.

Though we come with a desire to serve and contribute, it may well be futile if we do not come together to enjoy the sense of community and be reminded that we are part of a greater effort that does not walk alone in our journey to inform, to be involved and to inspire. Here’s to another great year for meaningful and fruitful Pro Bono projects!

Written by: Ryce Lee and Joshua Goh
Photographs by: Leung Liwen

Pro Bono in the news

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Chief Justice Menon urges new lawyers to embrace pro bono work 
Channel Newsasia , 27 July 2013

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon emphasised the importance of an active engagement in pro bono work amongst lawyers. Addressing community law, the Chief Justice also said that community lawyers are a necessity.

Read about it here.

Law students take to pro bono work
The Straits Times, 1 September 2013

As part of the mandatory pro bono requirement that will apply next May, law students will soon have to do up to 20 hours of unpaid volunteer work in their second year of study. Meanwhile, first year students from the National University of Singapore are already actively involved in various pro bono projects ahead of the mandatory requirement.

Read about it here.

Pro Bono Cohesion

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The Pro Bono Club held its first cohesion event on the last weekday of recess week. As per the usual procedure in law school cohesion events, the event proper did not start till about an hour late, a good thing considering the impressive heat that afternoon. The event kicked off with various non-emcee members hijacking the mikes to tease the ever-teasable Varian about his lovely new hair style.

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Varian and his new(?) hairstyle.

The small crowd who appeared before the buffet meal started had much fun playing the well-thought-out station games, in pursuit of the 100 dollar Capitaland voucher awarded to the person who got the most points that evening. Games like taboo, blowing down cups with air from a balloon and pencil tossing were played. The members of the Club good-naturedly cheered and challenged each other to better their scores. The day ended with Hijazi taking away the top prize, all ready to treat friends to a great meal.

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Hijazi (centre) looking happy with his crazed friends.

The feast started at 6.30pm, accompanied by beer. The large number of dedicated year 2 Pro Bono Members managed to arrive just as the food was about to be served, almost as though they were only there for the food.

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Year 1s spearheading the rush for food.

Both years of law students then settled on the picnic mats laid out on the Upper Quad, to pig out and listen to amazing music played by Boys named Sue and The Dissenters.

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Many thanks to Eunice Chiam and her organizing Committee for putting together this wonderful evening of fun and games, food and beer as well as music for us.

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Written by: Shu Chin

Photographs by: Erwin & Zhi Kang

In Session: Pro Bono in Practice

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A joint dialogue organised by the NUS and SMU Pro Bono groups was held in the evening of 15th March at the SMU administration building. The session featured a panel of distinguished individuals including Mr Josephus Tan, Lead Council under the Supreme Court’s Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences; Mr Chris Edwards, senior associate at DLA Piper; Ms Cassandra Ow, ex-head of the NUS Pro Bono Group; and Mr Wong Meng Meng, then President of the Law Society of Singapore.

The 2 main issues that the session addressed were:

(1)  whether mandatory pro bono is required to sustain pro bono and

(2)  whether current law firm billing and promotion practices encourage or discourage pro bono.

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The Opening Speeches

After a short speech and video by the Pro Bono Service Office, Mr Josephus Tan began the discussing with an interesting and amusing description of his participation in CLAS the opportunities he gathered in learning the tricks of the legal trade, and even declared that pro bono gave him a high. Importantly, he noted that pro bono served more than an altruistic purpose, but a utilitarian one as well: “The more you do (pro bono), the better (in terms of technical skills) you get.”

Mr Edwards continued the discussion  by noting how lawyers can continue to do pro bono despite a heavy workload. He highlighted how the message of pro bono encompasses the three aspects of intrinsic motivation: autonomy (the desire for freedom), mastery (the desire to improve oneself) and purpose (the desire to do something in service larger than ourselves). Using DLA Piper as an example, Mr Edwards pointed out how bigger firms have set up pro bono programs and expressed great faith in the Singaporean legal community to do pro bono.

As an NUS Law alumni, Ms Ow ‘s first contact with pro bono resonated with many in the audience. She had attended a legal clinic session during her days as a law student and eventually set up Project Law Help with the advent of the NUS Pro Bono Group. Ms Ow expressed her that pro bono should not be mandatory even though every law student should be exposed to it. Articulating the purist standpoint, she stressed that passion was a definite prerequisite for pro bono.

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Open Floor Discussion

Q: What is the role of law schools in Singapore within the pro bono ecosystem?

A: Ms Ow believed that the pro bono group in each school would provide every student with a spectrum of opportunities for contact with pro bono. This would hopefully inspire students to go on to do pro bono in practice. Mr Chris stressed that students need not wait for institutions to provide such opportunities and could instead volunteer at various international pro bono organizations in need of law students. Mr Tan built on this by mentioning the myriad of initiatives under PBSO. He suggested that law students could be attached to such projects which would expose our future lawyers to the real world and its issues. Mr Wong concluded with the remark that the purpose of making pro bono as an academic requirement should be to instill a sense of civic consciousness in law students, and not simply as another test of a law student’s academic ability.

Q: Would an alternative to mandatory pro bono would be for firms to give credit to lawyers that do pro bono work?

A: The panel was divided in opinion. The three male panelists found no issue with mandatory pro bono. Mr Wong raised the point that in reality a lawyer’s performance is evaluated based on his or her contribution to the firm’s coffers. It would be difficult for a lawyer’s pro bono work to be considered in his or her performance evaluation given that such evaluation was different across firms. He also mentioned that the idea of making lawyers pay a fee if they did not want to do pro bono was considered but it would be biased to the rich. Mr Tan revealed that there was a lot of resistance to the mandatory pro bono scheme at first. He believed this was because lawyers who were doing pro bono felt that they would enjoy the same appreciation from society that they had before. He then compared the pro bono scheme to National Service, drawing parallels between how the participants in both schemes are usually unhappy with how they are mandatory but would eventually accept it for the greater good.

Ms Ow, on the other hand, clarified that law firms do have a culture in providing opportunities for associates to do pro bono, and that such an alternative suggested above was not required. Drawing on her experience in a pervious law firm, she maintained that the firm’s pro bono programs were simply a platform for the lawyers themselves to do pro bono. They were only minimally mandatory to the point for simply exposing the associates to pro bono work, but any further pro bono action would be on the onus of the lawyers themselves. She then further stressed that the mandatory pro bono scheme should be reflective of such a policy – that the scheme should be a platform for lawyers to do pro bono and not an obligation – for fear that pro bono would lose its meaning. Lawyers should do pro bono not because they must do it, but because they want to.

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Q: Should a strong pro bono culture be instilled to law firms as an alternative to a mandatory pro bono system, and would there be a lack of credible opportunities for law students to do pro bono in such a mandatory system, with the effect that it would discourage a culture of pro bono?

Mr Wong addressed these final two questions to the panel and mentioned that one should not compartmentalize the entire issue of community service and see pro bono as a separate issue. Pro bono is simply one aspect of community service, and that a more holistic view should adopted by students on every education level. A student’s world should not comprise simply of examinations and other academic activities, but should encompass helping the less fortunate. Lawyers can help others just as well as doctors or engineers can. Pro bono is simply the finishing touch in of a culture of community service that is prevalent since primary school. As such, there would be no need for efforts to instill such a culture that have existed throughout the education level hierarchy.

The session ended with a presentation of tokens of appreciation to the panelists. Every participant then adjoined outside the room for refreshments, whereby talk ranged from further discussion of pro bono to the other lighter aspects of life.

Written by: Dominic Low

Photographs by: Derrick Koh

Reflections on my Pro Bono Experience – Harpreet Singh, SC

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dear all, Mr Harpreet Singh from WongPartnership LLP has kindly agreed for us to feature his inspirational Pro Bono article. Enjoy!

Reflections On My Pro Bono Experience

Harpreet Singh Nehal, SC

2012 marks the 20th year of my admission to the Singapore Bar. I recall that when I was in my final year at law school, I flirted with the idea of joining a very small law firm so I could undertake legal work for the man / woman in the street. I eventually ended up joining Drew & Napier and did complex litigation for the next two decades for clients who on no account can be described as “the man / woman in the street”. I enjoyed (and still enjoy) handling complex commercial disputes. Yet, there was a part of me that yearned to undertake work on a pro bono basis for needy individuals.

I happened to be at the right place at the right time for my first pro bono case in my 3rd year in legal practice: PP v Norzian bin Bintat [1995] 3 SLR(R) 105. Serendipity marked the entire narrative of this case. Norzian was one of the neighbourhood boys I was acquainted with from my early teens. We lived in adjacent HDB flats in Hougang. His family lived in a rented flat. Mine was a lot more fortunate: we “owned” our 3-room flat. I recall many hours spent playing soccer with Norzian and the boys in the void deck, right under the nose of signs put up by HDB that left no doubt that playing soccer in the void deck was “illegal”.

Despite countless brilliant moves, and even more spectacular goals in that void deck, I discovered years later that Norzian did not make it to the national soccer squad. Truth is, neither did I. I suspect Norzian discovered that truth about me, because years later he knocked on my parents’ door, explained that he had got into serious difficulty with the police for having allegedly hurting an old man and said he understood I had become a lawyer. The unspoken premise was that I would be his lawyer. Little did I realise then that this seemingly inconsequential matter would turn out to be a case raising an important Constitutional law issue.

I met Norzian a day or two later and got straight to work on my first pro bono brief. We met at a hawker centre and I proceeded to record his instructions on a yellow memo-pad while sipping teh-tarik which Norzian insisted on paying for. It turned out that there had been a minor tiff between Norzian and an elderly gentleman at his void deck, which resulted in a minor injury being inflicted on the victim. The medical report showed that the only injury comprised a “mild contusion”, which I later discovered meant nothing more than a “small blue black”. The police statement showed that there was some element of provocation from the victim. As Norzian described it, following that minor tiff, he was set upon by the elderly gentlemen’s equally elderly friends who set chase upon Norzian. Norzian eventually was apprehended by some patrons at the nearby coffeeshop, who hearing a commotion, assumed the young man was guilty of some misdemeanour. After a delay of about 1 year, Norzian was subsequently charged for voluntarily causing hurt.

Having reviewed the facts, it seemed to me that there was more than a reasonable basis to argue that the injury was inflicted unintentionally. The relatively insignificant injury, backed up by the contemporaneous medical report, itself pointed to an absence of malicious intent. What is more, it seemed to me that this whole matter arose out of a relatively small misunderstanding and should perhaps be resolved out of court. I wrote to the AGC and proposed a meeting between parties to resolve matters. The proposal was, however, summarily rejected.

The matter eventually came on for trial before a very senior District Judge, who immediately appreciated how relatively minor and insignificant the whole matter was and suggested that Norzian and the victim should attempt to patch things. That proposal immediately met with favour with me. The victim himself, with advice from his family, was happy to resolve matters and put an end to this misunderstanding. An eminently sensible settlement was worked out between Norzian and the victim, which included an apology from Norzian to be given in open Court. A composition offer was accordingly made by Norzian, and accepted by the elderly man. The Prosecution, however, opposed the composition. Over the Prosecution’s objection, the District Judge gave his consent to the composition under s 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code. As part of the composition, Norzian raised his right hand and expressed his very elegant apology in open Court in these  terms: “Apek… Sorry Ah!”. He was made to say it a second time because the District Judge did not hear it the first time. Norzian and the elderly man, thereupon, smiled and shook hands and the offence was compounded. To express his heartfelt appreciation, Norzian bought me lunch from the former canteen at the Ministry of Manpower building opposite the Subordinate Courts, telling me that I could pick any food item from any stall in that canteen and he would pay for it. That very generous offer was gladly accepted and is, to this day, one of the most meaningful and significant client lunches I have had in the past 20 years.

The matter was resolved. At least, that is what I thought.

About a week later, I was served with a notice of appeal from the Prosecution. They indicated they would raise a Constitutional law issue relating to the composition. “Huh?” is what I thought when I read that notice. I could not at the time, for the life of me, conceive how the background facts I have outlined above relating to Norzian’s case raised any Constitutional law issue.

In the subsequent appeal before former Chief Justice Yong Pung How, the Prosecution raised the argument that under Art 85(8) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, only the Attorney General has the power to discontinue or terminate criminal proceedings and as s 199 of the CPC provided that criminal proceedings could be discontinued by composition of the offence by the aggrieved party, that provision was ultra vires the Constitution unless it was construed so that it applied only to cases of private prosecutions. That argument was considered, and rejected, by the High Court. PP v Norzian bin Bintat  turned out to be a landmark decision on Constitutional law. I could not have imagined when the case first started that this seemingly minor pro bono matter involving a young man from Hougang would morph into a case of such significant import. I was glad I was of some help to Norzian at his time of need. It was a very small way of repaying him for the very many ball passes he made to me in the “penalty box” of the void deck which enabled me to score the sum total of three goals in the few years we were privileged to play together. I do not know what has since become of Norzian. I trust he is well. I wish him well.

I have since had the privilege of working on a number of other pro bono matters. One (PP v Barokah) immediately comes to mind.

Barokah, an Indonesian maid, was charged with murdering her elderly employer. The young girl was pregnant at the time of the offence, and faced the prospect of a death sentence. The representations, supported by medical expert reports, helped persuade the Prosecution to reduce the murder charge to culpable homicide not amounting to murder on account of Barokah’s diminished responsibility. She avoided the death penalty, and was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment. The entire judicial process spanned more than two years, during which time Barokah delivered a beautiful baby girl in prison. Each prison visit enabled my associate and I to see this child grow up. The start of every visit was taken up interacting with the baby, a process which greatly warmed all our hearts. Underlying each visit was the painful realisation that Barokah would one day have to experience permanent separation from her own child. Equally, there was the realisation that the family of Barokah’s deceased employer had to deal with their own tragic loss and grief.

One incident is permanently etched in my mind from my representation of Barokah. During one of the prison visits, I noticed from the corner of my eye that my associate had stopped taking notes. She seemed busy doing something with her papers, except writing. I wasn’t able to quite figure out what she was doing, and so I continued taking instructions. What happened at the end of that visit is something I will never forget. My associate whipped out an origami crane which she presented to Barokah’s young child; her own little gift to the little girl, made from her legal memo pad. It was a heart-warming moment where one human connected with another.

Some of you reading this may be much younger than me. Some of you may even be part of the latest batch of lawyers to be admitted to the Singapore Bar. I hope you will permit me to share a number of personal thoughts about pro bono work.

First, we are all very privileged to have received legal training and are, on account of our training and background, in a unique position to positively impact the lives of individuals in our society. Pro bono representation of accused persons is a very meaningful way of employing our expertise.

Secondly, do not underestimate your ability to assist accused persons who may otherwise be without representation. It is natural for young lawyers or junior members of the Bar to question if they are properly equipped to represent accused persons in criminal matters. The fact is that: (i) for matters coming under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, the Law Society will be able to emplace junior lawyers to work with more senior and experienced lawyers, thus enabling younger lawyers to build up their confidence and expertise and in due course undertake matters on their own. Indeed, there are even relatively straight forward matters (eg mitigation pleas for accused persons who have no defence) which a young lawyer may handle without much difficulty; (ii) similarly with the capital cases administered under the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (LASCO), junior lawyers may register as junior assisting counsel and be assigned as such to provide litigation support for the lead and assisting counsel. There is, therefore, scope for junior lawyers, including newly called lawyers, to be involved in pro bono criminal work.

Thirdly, civil litigators should not be deterred from undertaking pro bono criminal matters. Civil litigation experience puts one in a good position to assist in criminal defence matters. The skills honed in civil litigation: analysis of issues, legal research, processing and reviewing case law, statutory interpretation, identifying possible defences, assessing credibility of witnesses, testing factual assertions for internal consistency and consistency against contemporaneous documents etc, are just as applicable to civil as well as criminal litigation. Any unfamiliarity with criminal procedure should not, in my view, be a barrier to getting involved in pro bono criminal work. Experienced criminal litigators are more than happy to give guidance to younger members of the Bar. For more complex criminal law issues, the Senior Counsel Forum is also happy to act as a resource panel to younger members of the Bar.

It is never too late, nor too early, to get involved.

Harpreet Singh Nehal, SC is a partner with Wong Partnership LLP. This year, Harpreet represented, pro bono, a man before the Court of Appeal accused of raping his daughter over a 10 year period. At the trial below, the accused was convicted and sentenced to 29 years imprisonment, with 24 strokes of the cane. On appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the case against him was not proven beyond reasonable doubt and acquitted him of all charges.

The (full) article was published as a supplement to the Singapore Law Gazette (July 2012), the official magazine of the Law Society of Singapore