Court awards costs to party represented by pro bono lawyer

SATS Construction Pte Ltd v Islam Md Ohidul [2016] SGHC 99

In the case, SATS Construction Pte Ltd v Islam Md Ohidul [2016] SGHC 99, covered by this news article, K.C. Vijayan, “Court awards legal costs for work done on pro bono basis”, Straits Times (3 May 2016), the High Court hearing an appeal from a labour court decision requested for a special hearing on the issue of whether a party who was represented by a pro bono lawyer could be awarded legal costs. The High Court held that it could and in this case, ordered $6,000 costs in favour of the worker, who was represented pro bono.

This is certainly good news for pro bono lawyers and impecunious litigants. It should be noted that in some cases, impecunious litigants may not even have the funds to pay for disbursements such as court filing fees, commissioner for oath fees, etc. A cost award could help pay off some of these, and also compensate the pro bono lawyer a little for the substantial time and resources spent. Of course lawyers who act pro bono don’t do it for the money. They went in knowing full well that they probably wouldn’t be paid. But this is helpful to ease the burden of some small firm pro bono lawyers. Also, it is only fair that the losing party is penalised with costs. Especially if that party commenced the action or appeal and lost. There is a deterrent effect as well.

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