Source: Brunei News Daily

An interview with the lawyers by the local journalist. Pictures: Deankassim

The country’s Law Society has resurrected its Legal Aid Clinic service after a long hiatus with aims to better provide free legal counsel to members of Brunei’s low income communities that are in dire need of advice pertaining to the country’s laws.

With its first clinic session today to kick-start the 2018 initiative, members of the Law Society who hail from different firms will be available for two hours on the last Saturday of every month from 11am to 1pm, except on public holidays, at the Law and Courts building in the capital at a first-come-first-serve basis.

In the New Brunei Daily’s interview with a panel of volunteer lawyers this morning it was shared that further initiatives will be carried out to better facilitate this pro-bono service through the utilisation of ICT specifically for those seeking advice but have no means of transportation.

“We welcome those who are looking for legal assistance to visit our website where, in the near future, we will have facilities that can enable online communication,” said the Legal Society president On Hung Zheng, adding that they understand the challenges many low income individuals may face especially for those residing in other districts.

The legal clinic, said the president, along with today’s volunteer’s Elaiza Merican, Veronica K Rajakanu, and Norhayati Omar, is at the service of all residents in the country regardless of country of origin so long as the individuals seeking counsel meet legal aid criteria’s. Those who qualify must be members of the public who are not represented by any legal firm, have proof of income or allowance less than BND$750 a month, a copy of their Brunei issued Identity Card, and have proof of residential address.

The service, it was elaborated, is also extended to the likes of blue collar workers such as domestic helpers and labourers of international nationality who may find themselves in potential legal disputes with employers, or other matters where they may require legal assistance.

With some 12 legal firms volunteering their services free of charge, the panel said that the lawyers at the qualified public’s disposal have expertise in varying fields ranging from Syariah Law, to Civil and Criminal, making the group of volunteers collectively well read in Brunei’s legal system and judiciary process.

Several years ago when the Legal Clinic was initiated, it was shared that the bulk of the services’ clients were those seeking assistance for bank loan disputes a topic of which many, it was made to understand, lack understanding.

“Most people blindly sign bank loans without fully understanding what it is they are committing to,” they said, citing examples such as the selling of cars from one individual to another but not in compliance to other legally protective procedures such as officially changing ownership as recognised by enforcement entities such as financial institutions and the Land Transport Department. Issues such as these, they add, may lead to financial problems especially if the purchasing party fails to meet car loan repayments despite their promises to do so.

“We are here to raise the level of awareness among the public of their rights in cases such as these,” said the panel, with the hopes that those who are considering the likes of the aforementioned scenario to first come forward. “We encourage them to come to our clinic before making these decisions,” they urged.

Considering the openness of the legal clinic that is meant to ease the burdens of the financially restricted, the panel reminded that those considering this option must be mindful prior to the appointment, stressing that only those who are in absolute distress will be entertained. Individuals, though receiving less than $750 a month who seek counsel, may not necessarily qualify examples of which include those who own property that affords them paid legal advice.

“More than anything we would appreciate it if our services are not taken for granted especially when there are those who are in real need of help,” they expressed.

Acquiring the pro-bono services of lawyers beyond the legal clinic is also a possibility, they said, especially when a client during such meetings expresses the need for further assistance. However, such an arrangement will require the Law Society president’s approval to which, he said, will first be assessed to ensure that neither party takes advantage of the legal aid clinic and the principals the initiative advocates.

Both senior and junior lawyers from the different legal firms will be available during the sessions that also doubles as a learning platform for future leaders in the industry who may not be exposed to the kinds of cases that present themselves during the legal clinic.

The seniors, they explained, can also stand to benefit from this initiative, pointing that, “You learn new things every day,” whilst at the same time mentor and encourage the development of their juniors.