Singapore — The case of Ms Parti Liyani, the domestic helper from Indonesia whose conviction for theft was overturned on appeal earlier this month, has shone a light on several aspects in Singapore’s society that could be improved, including better access for legal help for its migrant workers.
According to a channelnewsasia.com report on June 9 this year, there are 1.42 million foreign workers in Singapore, nearly a quarter of the population. And while there are almost 400,000 foreign professionals with an Employment Pass or S-Pass, the majority of migrant workers are low-skilled workers in low-wage positions.
It is these employees who may find trouble in accessing legal help. HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics), the non-government organisation (NGO) that gave Ms Parti shelter and help throughout her years-long ordeal, recently issued a statement entitled “Migrant Workers & Criminal Justice” on the hardships migrant workers face in situations similar to Ms Parti’s.
“Facing charges, they become torn between fighting for justice for themselves, and pleading guilty so that they can walk away and resume earning for their families. Many eventually conclude they have no real choice but to plead guilty even if they believe themselves innocent.
“All these difficulties are on top of the inherent stress of investigation and prosecution. Caught in a foreign legal machinery, migrant workers seldom know their rights, or what help is available. Few migrant workers have Singaporean family or friends able to post bail for them. Locked in remand, accessing help is even harder.
“In workers’ experience, investigating and prosecuting authorities seldom offer such information and resources.”
Lawyers for HOME offer legal aid to the country’s migrant workers. It was the NGO, in fact, that approached Mr Anil Balchandani, the managing proprietor of Red Lion Circle Advocates and Solicitors, to take on Ms Parti’s case, which he did pro-bono. According to the straitstimes.com on Sunday (Sept 20), her legal defence could have otherwise cost her S$150,000.
Ms Parti’s lawyer is part of the Law Society Pro Bono Services’ (LSPBS) Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, under which more than 1,000 lawyers are registered, with around 200 lawyers actively taking part in it.
After the acquittal, Mr Balachandani issued a statement giving credit back to HOME, adding that there are many others who are in similar situations “who languish in shelters and our prisons” and who need help.
Other migrants’ rights organisations such as Transient Workers Count Too,(TWC2) extend legal aid as well.
Aside from NGOs, straitstimes.com listed several other venues for legal aid that migrant workers may tap, including the Ministry of Law’s Legal Aid Bureau, the Legal Aid Scheme for Capital Offences, and Legal Clinics run by the Singapore Management University’s Pro Bono Centre, Migrant Workers’ Centre, and the Community Justice Centre. /TISG