From a domestic helpers’ guide to online law portals, students from the NUS Faculty of Law and SMU School of Law support COVID-19 laws outreach.
“These ground-up initiatives by the students are a timely and valuable service to the community. They complement our existing communications and outreach plans on the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act,” said Mr Colin Chow, Director (Civil & Legislative Policy) at MinLaw.
The Act offers temporary legal reliefs to businesses and individuals who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Portal for the Community
When Singapore went into circuit breaker mode in April 2020, second-year SMU Law student Justin Tang led his peers in supporting the SMU Pro Bono Centre’s new initiative – a COVID-19 portal for members of the public to learn more about the legal issues that have arisen from the pandemic.
For the students, this was an opportunity to put their legal education into practice and to serve the wider community. Launched in June, the portal features articles, FAQs, explainer videos and webinars. These are carefully curated by the faculty, alumni and students, to ensure that the content is up-to-date and relevant for public consumption.
“We wanted to do something meaningful during this difficult time. It was also a great way for us to use our legal skills to help the community,” said Justin. “We did all our discussions online and it was challenging at times, but our goal was to consolidate and simplify the relevant content as soon as possible because we felt a sense of urgency to ease the impact of the pandemic on individuals such as business owners and tenants.”
From left: Justin and Jeanette
Together with Jeanette Tang, his sister and fellow second-year law undergraduate at SMU, the group looked at various sources of information, such as ministerial and parliamentary speeches, news articles, and newsletters from law firms. They then distilled the information into digestible pieces of content aimed at addressing legal issues, such as the inability to perform contracts and remission of property tax.
The work on the portal continues with SMU Law alumnus, Reuben Teng, who was hired under the SGUnited Traineeship programme. The portal will function for as long as COVID-19 measures are in place, and is required to keep the public safe and informed.
COV-AID to the Rescue
Over at NUS Law, third-year students Anders Seah and Mark Tang co-founded COV-AID, a one-stop online portal that helps individuals and businesses navigate the COVID-19 legislation.
From left: Mark and Anders
Anders came up with the idea while he was interning at a law firm. He remembers answering numerous client queries relating to the new COVID-19 legislation. “At that time, many law firms were providing COVID-19 updates for their clients, and I thought, why not do the same for the man on the street?” he said.
Equipped with the idea, he approached Professor Alan Tan (faculty adviser for the project) at the law school. They then sought approval from the Pro Bono Office and the Deanery – thus bringing COV-AID to life.
“I gathered a team of close friends including Mark, and we put pen to paper immediately. Setting up COV-AID was daunting because we knew how much effort had to go into this. There were also doubts as to whether could pull it off. But yet, here we are – we launched on National Day.”
Some of the key areas covered by the portal include the rental relief framework, social distancing laws and do’s-and-don’ts at the workplace. It also consolidates information about the various government grants that individuals, businesses and employers can apply for.
To cater for an audience who take an interest in law, the portal also features thought leadership pieces by law professors in ‘Academics on Pandemics’ and legal insights by lawyers on how COVID-19 has affected their respective areas of practice.
The information on the portal remains timely, with the students updating new measures or amendments to the law to the portal when they are announced. The students also work with various organisations such as the People’s Association and the Law Society Pro Bono Services to enhance their outreach efforts.
Helping Domestic Helpers Navigate COVID-19 Laws
Second-year NUS Law student Charlene Tan, meanwhile, developed a COVID-19 guide specifically for domestic helpers. The students wanted to help this group better understand pandemic-related measures. For example, the guide provides practical information about safe distancing measures and TraceTogether, which would be especially useful for their rest days, and where they can remit money during these challenging times.
Charlene shared that the domestic helpers may not be familiar with some of the legislation. Not only are they away from home and faced with a different legal system, there may be language barriers as well. The guide is currently being translated into Bahasa Indonesia, as the students seek to raise awareness within the Indonesian domestic helper community. The English version will be available on the COV-AID website in December 2020, and the team plans to work with NGOs to disseminate the guide.
MinLaw’s Mr Chow, who led the team that worked on amendments to the COVID-19 legislation, praised these ground-up initiatives. He noted: “This is a good example of how our law students can look for innovative ways to put their legal training and skills to good use, by helping the community.”
About the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act
The COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 (“the Act”) contains regulations to control the incidence and transmission of COVID-19 in Singapore. The Act, which was passed on 7 April and amended in June, September and November, covers the following areas:
(1) Temporary relief from inability to perform contractual obligations
(2) Rental Relief Framework for SMEs
(3) [Expired on 19 Oct 2020] Increased monetary thresholds and time limits for bankruptcy and insolvency
(4) Alternative arrangements for meetings
(5) Relief for contracts affected by construction delays
(6) Concessions for collective sale procedures
(7) Re-Align Framework for businesses to renegotiate contracts