SINGAPORE — Individuals receiving government-funded criminal defence aid are no longer allowed to visit casinos and jackpot machine rooms in Singapore, or have an online gambling account with Singapore Pools.

The new rule, implemented on Monday (April 1), is to “safeguard the financial situation of aid recipients, in view of their financially vulnerable circumstances”, said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

They will be allowed to access casinos, jackpot machine rooms and their Singapore Pools’ accounts within two weeks after they no longer receive aid or when their case has concluded in court.

In response to TODAY’s queries, MinLaw said that these restrictions are in line with the Government’s approach for existing recipients of social assistance, subsidies and civil legal aid since 2013.

The gambling restrictions will apply to all individuals receiving criminal legal aid from the Public Defender’s Office or under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (Clas) administered by Pro Bono SG.

“This exclusion order took effect on April 1, 2024 after the operationalisation of the Public Defender’s Office and the necessary legislative amendments have been put in place,” said MinLaw, adding that it applies to all existing recipients of criminal defence aid as well.

The Public Defender’s Office started on Dec 1, 2022 to “enhance access to justice for vulnerable Singaporeans who find it challenging to afford legal representation”, MinLaw said then.

It provides legal representation to individuals who cannot afford to engage a lawyer and are charged with certain criminal offences such as voluntarily causing hurt.

However, those facing charges for offences with the death penalty — such as murder and drug trafficking — and 10 Acts involving gambling and betting, organised and syndicated crime and terrorism are not eligible for criminal legal aid, MinLaw said previously.

Clas by Pro Bono SG similarly provides criminal legal assistance for the vulnerable and covers offences under 17 statutes, such as the Penal Code, Vandalism Act and the Women’s Charter.

To determine if someone is eligible for legal aid, both the Public Defender’s Office and Clas apply a means and merits test to the applicants. Singaporeans and permanent residents who have a per capita household income of up to S$1,650 are eligible to seek aid from the Public Defender’s Office.

While the ministry did not provide exact figures of how many recipients have records of visiting casinos and jackpot machine rooms, or have an online gambling account with Singapore Pools, it said these people only make up a “small number”.

It added that the Public Defender’s Office had informed aided accused persons under Public Defender’s Office and Clas before the restriction on gambling was implemented. New recipients will be informed by the office when legal aid is granted to them.

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