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The government in Singapore is highly centralized and powerful. In this environment, access to justice would seemingly be determined by the government. But while the government does play a major role in access to justice, e.g. by funding legal aid and supporting pro bono schemes, other actors impact access to justice. The chapter examines how access to justice developed between lawyers and the government, starting from the initial government position of implementing civil but not criminal legal aid, to the Law Society’s creation of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme in 1985 and its 2006 Legal Aid Review Report that prompted many improvements, to the government’s 2013 decision to fund broad-based criminal legal aid. The chapter argues that access to justice in Singapore should be viewed primarily as a government and lawyer dynamic, and that although the government exercises more power over a variety of decisions, these two actors have negotiated a changing relationship over the years that continues to offer new possibilities.
Understanding access to justice in any jurisdiction requires identification of factors which create the dynamic in which access functions. Jurisdictions can have factors in common, but each jurisdiction has a dynamic of its own. Without an understanding of these factors and how they interact, proposed improvements in access may not accomplish much. Viewing access to justice in this way arguably allows for a clearer vision of positive change, because it acknowledges why particular changes may be difficult or unlikely. Establishing access to justice dynamics in sufficient complexity is also necessary for comparative understandings across jurisdictions, but comparative insight requires reference to an expanded set of jurisdictions, including Asia and beyond.