Doing good for the community: NUS Law students show commitment and creativity
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the difficulties facing vulnerable communities in Singapore. Stepping up to the plate, NUS Law students put their heads together to support foreign domestic workers (FDWs) and migrant workers in the country.
Recognising that the public would appreciate help navigating and understanding the many new COVID-related laws, rules and regulations, as well as financial relief schemes, the faculty’s students also initiated a website project to provide guidance, useful information, and resources.
These impactful projects were among those recognised at this year’s NUS Law Pro Bono Awards ceremony.
Empowering domestic helpers and migrant workers
Last year, the NUS Law Pro Bono Group developed a legal handbook for the FDWs. The handbook provides them with relevant information on their legal rights, responsibilities, and liabilities.
The Pro Bono Group has been working with partner organisations since 2013 through its Law & You project to conduct legal workshops to educate the FDWs on matters regarding salary, criminal law, negotiation strategies, and renewal of work permits. When the pandemic hit Singapore last year, these face-to-face workshops had to be stopped. In order to continue their efforts, NUS Law students decided to adjust their plans by compiling all the information into a handbook so that the FDWs working in Singapore can still obtain this useful information.
The team, which was led by Shyrie Chopra, Shanon Kua Yan Yu and Andrew Ng Jun De, created and published the handbook in English and Burmese and is currently getting it translated into Bahasa Indonesia. They are working with their partner organisations as well as the NUS Pro Bono Group and their faculty advisor Associate Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge in distributing these booklets to the FDWs working in Singapore.
Andrew, Shyrie and Shanon shared that they believe that access to justice should be universal. It should not be limited to only citizens in Singapore, but should also extend to FDWs who play a crucial role in supporting households and by extension, Singaporean society.
While COVID-19, may have prevented the conducting of face-to-face legal workshops, they hope that these handbooks will be of help to FDWs in successfully navigating the legal landscape and enhance their working experience in Singapore.
Another group of students created guidebooks for the migrant worker and FDW communities. The team, led by Charlene Tan and Ryan Young Wei Jie, produced the guidebooks to help the workers understand the safety measures that apply to them as they work in Singapore. The guidebooks were designed in various languages such as Bengali, and included non-legal solutions such as explaining the importance of using TraceTogether and where they may go to remit money.
Charlene said, “This experience has emphasised how the law is a powerful tool that has immense potential to help serve the needs of society. As students who will join the legal profession someday, we recognise that it is a privileged profession and that we want to give back using the skills that we have picked up in school to help the vulnerable in society.”
Enhancing the public’s knowledge on COVID-19 laws
NUS Law students were also behind a meaningful project to raise the public’s understanding of the country’s rapidly-changing COVID-19 rules and regulations.
Last August, on National Day, Anders Seah Nanjie and Mark Tang Yu Zhong officially launched the COV-AID project. The co-founders, along with the rest of the COV-AID executive committee, had taken three months to build up the website resource which many have found to be very informative and helpful.
A one-stop online portal, it includes comprehensive information on Singapore’s COVID-19 laws and measures, covering a wide range from sports and religion to workplace regulations and contracts related to events and tourism.
The team also roped in more than 90 students to help compile opinion pieces and conduct interviews with academics and practitioners, who shared their insights on the impact of the pandemic on industries, regional politics and even mental health.
To date, COV-AID has partnered with the Ministry of Law to author an informative guide on the Re-Align Framework, to help businesses significantly impacted by the pandemic to realign their contracts. Additionally, COV-AID has linked lawyers up with organisations, including the SME Centre, who sought to conduct COVID-related webinars for their members. COV-AID also actively seeks to work with various community centres and grassroots organisations to ensure that this resource benefits the wider community.
“Notwithstanding the trying times brought about by COVID-19, you have continued to ensure that access to justice was not denied for needy beneficiaries and also helped others deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic. Though the work, through the clients that you have helped, through the experiences that you have and through the values that you have reflected, you remind us all why we got into law in the first place.”
NUS Law Pro Bono Awards Ceremony
Over the past year, more than 2,000 hours have been clocked by over 100 NUS Law students to help those adversely impacted by COVID-19. Beyond that, students have also been continually serving and engaging in other projects - assisting in community legal clinics and Criminal Legal Aid Scheme cases; conducting legal awareness talks for family members of Alzheimer's patients; organising workshops for Youth Corps Singapore; volunteering as State Court representatives; and facilitating in-person in Deputyship applications.
These student projects won plaudits at the NUS Law Pro Bono Awards ceremony this year, which handed out awards for three categories. Financial grants were also disbursed to deserving initiatives.
Each year, the Centre for Pro Bono and Clinical Legal Education holds an awards ceremony to celebrate the achievements and leadership displayed by law students in pro bono work. The event was attended by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development, and was held at the faculty’s Wee Chong Jin Moot Court. It was also live-streamed over Zoom to students and guests.
Here are the full list of award winners and projects which received the financial grants:
Pro Bono Special Recognition Award
Charlene Tan and Ryan Young Wei Jie - Migrant Workers’ COVID-19 Guide
Shyrie Chopra, Shanon Kua Yan Yu and Andrew Ng Jun De – The Law & You Legal Handbook for foreign domestic workers
Natania Peh Hui-Ting and Toh Ding Jun - Project Legal Awareness (PLAY) Mentorship
Alvina Chitra Logan and Wong Weitao - State Courts Representatives Programme
Sandra Faith Angelica Tan Wan Lin and Benjamin Ho Kok Hean - NUS PBO In-Person Deputyship Project
Anders Seah Nanjie and Mark Tang Yu Zhong – COV-AID project
Pro Bono Mentor Award
Professor Alan Tan Khee-Jin - COV-AID project
Mr Allen Sng Kiat Peng - NUS PBO In-Person Deputyship Project
Pro Bono Innovation Award
Anders Seah Nanjie - COV-AID project
Student for Migration – Law & You - NUS Law Class of 1992 Pro Bono Grant and the NUS Law Class of 2017 Pro Bono Grant
NUS Criminal Justice Project - RHTLaw Asia Subhas Anandan Pro Bono Grant
NUS Law Dean Professor Simon Chesterman praised the students for their creativity and their commitment towards pro bono work, and remarked, “Notwithstanding the trying times brought about by COVID-19, you have continued to ensure that access to justice was not denied for needy beneficiaries and also helped others deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“Though the work, through the clients that you have helped, through the experiences that you have and through the values that you have reflected, you remind us all why we got into law in the first place.”