SINGAPORE: Singapore's High Court on Tuesday (Jul 25) set out new sentencing benchmarks for those who default on national service (NS).
In a written judgment, the court said that the length of sentences should be amplified for those who have defaulted for a longer period of time, to "reflect the decline in a person's physical fitness with age" and also to create a "progressive disincentive" for defaulters to delay their return.
It added that there would be a spike for sentences where an offender had defaulted for at least 10 years, as he would then be unlikely to serve his reservist obligations in full.
The court also ruled that the statutory maximum sentence of 36 months' imprisonment should be the starting point when sentencing offenders who had defaulted for around 23 years or longer, as they would have evaded the whole of their full-time NS obligations, as well as post-Operationally Ready Date (ORD) reservist obligations.
The new sentencing benchmarks are as follows:
The new benchmarks were outlined in written grounds of decision over three appeals against the sentences imposed by the court on three NS defaulters in April this year.
In a landmark decision, the High Court upped the jail terms of Sakthikanesh Chidambaram, his brother Vandana Kumar Chidambaram and Ang Lee Thye, saying the attitude that NS can be avoided would "weaken our national security".
The court said that defaulters such as Ang, who defaulted for more than 23 years and only surrendered to authorities when he was 41, made up the "worst category".
It raised Ang's 24-month jail term to 33 months.
Sakthikanesh, who defaulted for more than five years, had his sentence upped from three weeks to 10. Vandana, who was initially fined S$6,000 for defaulting for more than three years, was sentenced to seven weeks' jail.
DEFAULTER'S NS PERFORMANCE NOT RELEVANT CONSIDERATION
The court also said that how well an NS defaulter performs after returning to serve NS should not be a relevant consideration for sentencing purposes.
This was because exceptional NS performance - which happens after the conduct which makes up the offence - does not reduce the offender's culpability nor the harm he caused, it said.
"The culpability of NS defaulters lies in the unfair advantage that they gained over their law-abiding peers by being able to pursue their personal goals while their peers were serving their NS obligations," the court said.
It added that such defaulters harmed the operational readiness of armed forces and also the morale of fellow citizens "who had made personal sacrifices to serve their NS obligations when they were called upon to do so".
The court also said that the offender's connection to Singapore, or any benefits he had enjoyed as a Singapore citizen, were not relevant for sentencing considerations.
Voluntary surrender could be a mitigating factor, as this could be evidence of remorse, it said, adding that there was also a public interest in encouraging defaulters to surrender early so they could still serve their NS obligations.
However, pleading guilty would attract limited or no mitigating value, it added, as NS default offences can be easily proved.