More people seek free legal aid
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
THE Council on Social Welfare’s (Majlis Kesejahteraan Masyarakator MKM) legal clinic has received more than 70 cases of people seeking advice on welfare and legal issues this year, almost doubling their case load from 2013.
Nur Judy Abdullah, MKM’s vice president, said awareness of legal clinic has grown steadily since its establishment two years ago.
In 2013, the legal clinic provided pro bono advice on 37 cases, compared to 42 in 2014 and 70 so far in 2015.
“The most common (legal) cases involve divorce and spousal support, child custody, domestic violence, and restraining orders due to family disputes,” said Nur Judy.
However, the majority of clients come to MKM seeking advice on how to apply for government welfare assistance, as well as housing and education support.
MKM volunteers assist their clients in filling the necessary forms for welfare benefits from government agencies such as the Community Development Department at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and Brunei Islamic Religious Council.
“Some of them don’t know where to go for assistance. Like if the children don’t have transport for school or don’t have school supplies, they sometimes don’t know how to fill in forms and some of them may be illiterate,” said MKM President Datin Paduka Hjh Intan in a previous report.
The organisation has made a name for itself as a champion of society’s most vulnerable groups, including economically disadvantaged women, migrant workers, domestic workers, and those in unskilled employment.
The weekly legal clinic runs out of the law offices of Yusof Halim & Partners, a prominent local firm headed by Datin Intan’s husband, Yusof Halim.
“MKM strives to protect victims of unfair treatment and to educate disadvantaged members of the community on their legal rights,” Judy added.
The NGO had its first taste of victory in the High Court in August 2013 when their client, a 78-year-old man, had his land returned to him after the court voided an illegal land transfer due to “fraud and misrepresentation”.
The clinic has also assisted migrant workers on breach of contract claims and unpaid wages.
Judy cited a case that involved a group of Bangladeshi labourers who, upon arriving in Brunei, were abandoned by their employer with no money or accommodation. Yusof Halim sent a letter to the employment agency concerned, but eventually the workers had to be repatriated at the expense of the Bangladeshi embassy.
With a growing case load, MKM has called on local law firms to volunteer their services pro bono. Aside from Yusof Halim & Partners, two other firms – Ibrahim Al-Haj & Company and Al Wadi Company – assist in the legal clinic.
“This is one of the objectives of the MKM, which is to provide free legal advice to victims and, in deserving cases, subsidised or free legal representation,” said Judy.
To be eligible for services at the legal clinic, clients must have an average family income of less than $400 per month, when divided by the total number of individuals in the family.
The Legal Advice and Advisory Clinic operates every Wednesday at Yusof Halim and Partners in Berakas between 7pm to 9pm.
The Brunei Times