NUS Law students to provide pro bono legal services to Visual Arts Cluster institutions

Annual pro bono awards recognise students’ community service and pro bono work

Students from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law) will soon have more opportunities to put their legal education into practice and to serve the community. 

NUS Law today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with three art institutions of Singapore’s Visual Arts Cluster - Singapore Art Museum (SAM), National Gallery Singapore (NGS) and the STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery (formerly known as the Singapore Tyler Print Institute) – to establish Arts in Clinical Legal Education (ARTICLE), a pro bono legal services programme. The signing ceremony was witnessed by Mr Edwin Tong SC, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health.

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Mr Edwin Tong SC, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health (back row, third from left), witnessed the MOU signing between NUS Law and the Visual Arts Cluster institutions.

Managed by the NUS Law Centre for Pro Bono & Clinical Legal Education, ARTICLE will provide more opportunities for NUS Law students to engage in clinical legal education in the arts sector and hone their corporate legal skills. Through this five-year programme, NUS Law students will be exposed to new areas of legal practice – from intellectual property to financing and personal property law. 

This MOU marks the second formal arrangement under the clinical legal education programme at NUS Law. The first was an MOU signed between NUS Law and the Legal Aid Bureau in 2010 under which clinical professors and NUS Law students take on legal aid cases, giving legal aid applicants representation in the Courts, and giving NUS Law students first-hand experience working on live legal cases, appearing in court with their professors, and drafting documents for court matters.

Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Law said, “Pro bono work around the world typically focuses on criminal law and family law — in particular, cases that are on their way to court. This is entirely appropriate, as that is when the lack of legal advice and support can see real harm. But it is far from the only way in which lawyers can give back to society. This novel MOU shows how lawyers can contribute in other sectors and in other ways, supporting the arts in particular and incorporating corporate and transactional work – the role of lawyers whose job is to try to make sure that some things never go to court. It will provide valuable experience to our students and, we hope, a valuable service to Singapore’s arts sector.”

Dr June Yap, Director, Curatorial, Programmes and Publications, Singapore Art Museum said, “We are deeply grateful to NUS Law for its recognition of the significance of the arts sector in contributing to the betterment of our community – in championing human expression, and the reflection upon our lives and how we live together. It is a partnership that has many beneficial facets for the arts community, and we are delighted to be working with the top ranked law school in Asia to provide immersive and hands-on opportunities in a professional environment for teaching and learning.

4th NUS Law Pro Bono Awards Ceremony celebrates achievements of students and mentor in pro bono work

Held in conjunction with the MOU signing ceremony, NUS Law today also recognised 13 students and a mentor for their outstanding leadership and contributions in pro bono projects, and awarded financial grants to support five deserving pro bono projects at the 4th NUS Law Pro Bono Awards Ceremony.

This year’s honourees were conferred awards in three categories - The Pro Bono Leadership Award, Special Recognition Award and The Pro Bono Mentor Award. A total of five financial grants - the NUS Law Class of 1992 Pro Bono Grant and the NUS Law Class of 2017 Pro Bono Grant – were also presented to support student pro bono projects.

Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Law said, “I’m always impressed by the efforts our students put into pro bono work, devoting their skills, their time, and their energy to assist those in need. Pro bono work is also good for our students, as these projects enable them to gain real-world experience of practising law. What’s more, as many lawyers learn, pro bono work can be how one finds a sense of purpose in the law, a sense of social responsibility as a legal professional. So congratulations to the winners of the NUS Pro Bono Awards, but also to the hundreds of other law students not receiving prizes today.”

Among today’s award recipients were two students who have contributed their time and energy to support the disadvantaged in our community through the NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme. 

Joseph Lim Weisheng and Sandra Tan have been outstanding co-ordinators of the NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme, guiding their teammates and working on applications from the Down Syndrome Association, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) and Bishan Home. Under the In-Person Deputyship Programme, NUS Law students work with litigants-in-person to prepare applications for deputyship for family members with mental incapacity. Since the launch of the programme in 2015, 42 parents of young persons with mental incapacity have successfully obtained court orders appointing them as deputies, all without the help of lawyers. This saves them legal fees, but also empowers them with the knowledge that the Court processes for deputyship can be navigated by litigants-in-person.

This year, Sandra and Joseph have also developed a guidebook targeted at non-legally trained persons to assist them in preparing their own applications. The production of the book was supported by the NUS Law Class of 1992 Pro Bono Grant and MINDS.

The In-Person Deputyship Programme has helped parents like Mr Alfred Cheong with his son’s deputyship application. Mr Cheong’s son Johannes, who has Down Syndrome, currently works at a retail apparel outlet and has represented Singapore in the Special Olympics. Their application was recently completed and Mr Cheong has now offered his services to help other parents with future applications.

Mr Cheong said, “It's been a great experience working with the team of NUS Law student volunteers assigned to my application. For a layman, the technicalities of a deputyship application are just too complex. The students were professional, patient, knowledgeable and meticulous where details were concerned. I received emails in the middle of the night showing they were working on my application documents despite their study commitments in the day. The students' presence and assistance during the document filing process was indeed reassuring, without which we would have been at a total loss. I believe this reflects the training and guidance they have undergone, and their hands-on experience they have gathered. I am greatly appreciative to the students and their supervisors for their time and effort in the whole application process.”

Pro Bono Awards and Financial Grants

a) Pro Bono Leadership Award

The Pro Bono Leadership Award recognises law students who have shown outstanding leadership and commitment toward pro bono work on a sustained basis, and whose contributions have led to significant developments in pro bono opportunities for law students. 

The 2019 Pro Bono Leadership Award recipients are:

  • Ong Kye Jing (The Recourse Initiative, NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme, Moot Parliament Programme, NUS Pro Bono Group)
  • Joseph Lim Weisheng (NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme)
  • Sandra Faith Angelica Tan (NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme, Deputyship Guidebook Project)
  • Choo Qian Ke (NUS Pro Bono Group)
  • Shawn Callen Kua Shao (NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme)
  • Thomas Lee Chee Seng (Military Justice Project)
  • Zachary Tan Yung Kiang (NUS-Rajah & Tann PDPA Compliance Assistance Scheme)
  • Lenon Ong Yuan Zheng (NUS-Rajah & Tann PDPA Compliance Assistance Scheme)

b) Special Recognition Award

This is awarded to students who have demonstrated a commitment to and passion for pro bono work in a sustained manner. Student leaders who receive this award have gone beyond the demands of their office to lead and inspire. Recipients also include students who have shown persistent effort, commitment and a passion towards providing quality pro bono services.

The 2019 recipients of the Special Recognition Award are:

  • Mitchell Leon Siu Kin (The Recourse Initiative)
  • Lau Chung Kit, Darryl (The Recourse Initiative)
  • Jolyn Chee (NUS Pro Bono Group)
  • Ho Kok Hean Benjamin (NUS Pro Bono Group, NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme)
  • Nur Afiqah bte Md Ashefjah (NUS Pro Bono Group, NUS Pro Bono Office In-Person Deputyship Programme)

Please refer to the Annex for more information on the awards and award recipients.

c) The Pro Bono Mentor Award 

This award recognises an outstanding supporter of NUS Law students’ efforts in pro bono, including but not limited to acting as legally qualified supervisors on student pro bono activities. This year, the Pro Bono Mentor Award 2019 was presented to Mr Ranjit Singh. 

Mr Ranjit Singh is a former Military Prosecutor in the Singapore Armed Forces who has provided invaluable advice and mentorship to the Military Justice Project’s Defending Officer Guidebook project – an ambitious project which intends to provide a comprehensive guide of military law and procedure for Defending Officers in the Singapore Armed Forces.

d) NUS Law Class of 1992 Pro Bono Grant

This grant was established in 2016 through a S$20,000 gift from the NUS Law Class of 1992. Each year, up to three grants of up to S$2,500 will be granted to support sustainable pro bono projects with a catalytic effect. These are projects that galvanise attention and efforts towards a worthy cause to which NUS Law students can provide significant contributions.

The NUS Law Class of 1992 Pro Bono Grant was presented to the following three projects: 

  • Syariah Court Friends – a programme to support litigants-in-persons in the Syariah Court 
  • PLAY Mentorship: Project Legal Awareness for Youth – NUS Law students mentor secondary school student leaders from neighbourhood schools to support them in educating their fellow students about youth crime. 
  • The NUS Law Criminal Justice Club is a student-led club established in September 2009 with the aim of increasing awareness and access to justice in criminal law. Besides its Innocence Project founded in 2012 (now known as The Recourse Initiative), the NUS Law Criminal Justice Club has expanded its activities to include the Military Justice Project, the NPCC Law Course and various other projects relating to criminal law.

e) NUS Law Class of 2017 Pro Bono Grant

This grant was established in 2017 with proceeds from a concert written, produced and performed by the graduating NUS Law Class of 2017. Each year, up to two grants of up to S$1,000 will be granted to support pro bono or community service projects.

The NUS Law Class of 2017 Pro Bono Grant was presented to the following two projects: 

  • Enterprise Pro Bono - NUS Law students are working on developing resources that assist start-ups in navigating the legal challenges they will face in areas of corporate structuring, intellectual property and other legal considerations. 
  • Students for Migrants – NUS Law students engage with migrant workers on legal awareness programmes, including educating them about their rights.

Pro bono work at NUS Law

NUS Law has always had student-led pro bono activities. These became more centralised with the setting up of Singapore’s first student-run pro bono group, the NUS Pro Bono Group, in February 2005. The NUS Pro Bono Group has since grown into a student organisation comprising over 200 law students and has expanded its work to focus on legal issues relating to migrant workers. Pro bono work in the area of criminal law gained impetus with the establishment of the student-led NUS Law Criminal Justice Club (“CJC”) in September 2009. The CJC runs the Recourse Initiative (formerly known as the Innocence Project Singapore), a student-led initiative that seeks to provide recourse to individuals who believe they have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. CJC has also developed projects involving Military Justice, raising awareness of military law and rendering legal aid for cases involving military law. 

In tandem with the development of student-led pro bono initiatives, NUS Law set up the Pro Bono Office (PBO) in September 2012 to oversee the implementation of the Mandatory Pro Bono Programme, which requires law students to fulfil 20 mandatory hours of pro bono work prior to graduation. PBO launched the online portal ‘Start Now Law’ in March 2014 to further encourage and enhance NUS law students’ involvement in pro bono activities. In October 2017, the NUS Law Centre for Pro Bono & Clinical Legal Education was launched, bringing together the NUS Pro Bono Office and the faculty’s clinical legal education programmes under one centre.