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Singapore

Bill passed in Parliament to increase maximum fines, introduce composition fines for minor offences in SAF

SINGAPORE: Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen who commit minor offences face stiffer penalties after Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 2) passed a Bill to increase maximum fines and ensure sufficient deterrence.

“It is an accepted principle for financial penalties to keep pace with inflation and increases in wage and allowance for adequate deterrence,” Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in his opening speech on Tuesday.

The amendments also introduce composition fines as an additional disciplinary measure, on top of summary trials and prosecution in the military courts, to resolve minor offences more efficiently while maintaining deterrence.

The amendments to the disciplinary provisions and administrative processes under the SAF Act were part of a Bill to form the Digital and Intelligence Service.

A summary trial usually involves a less formal type of prosecution, with servicemen being charged and sentenced by superiors - from the same unit or otherwise - in SAF camps.

While Dr Ng did not specify examples of minor offences, he mentioned common offences such as smoking outside designated areas in SAF camps and not completing the yearly individual physical proficiency test (IPPT).

However, offences are assessed on a case-by-case basis with factors like repeat offences taken into consideration.

INCREASE IN MAXIMUM FINES

For minor offences dealt with by summary trial, a junior disciplinary officer can now impose on a soldier ranked third sergeant and below a maximum fine of S$600, up from S$300.

The most senior disciplinary officer is the Chief of Defence Force, who will be able to impose a maximum fine of S$10,000, up from S$6,000. SAF officers who commit an offence will usually need to be charged by a more senior disciplinary officer.

“These proposed fine limits do not exceed the Magistrates’ Courts’ fine limit, which is currently set at S$10,000,” Dr Ng said.

The fine limits that can be imposed by the Subordinate Military Court will also be increased for the first time since 2006.

For officers, the maximum fine will increase from S$10,000 to S$30,000. For soldiers, it will increase from S$5,000 to S$15,000. The fine limit for a Senior Disciplinary Committee will similarly be increased from S$10,000 to S$30,000.

These increases also take reference from civilian courts and are similar to the District Courts' fine limit, which is currently set at S$30,000 in the Criminal Procedure Code, Dr Ng said.

MP Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) asked how the "significant increase" in fines that could be imposed by the Subordinate Military Court was decided, and whether there will be clear sentencing guidelines.

In response, Dr Ng said even with the increase, the military courts and disciplinary officers will still have to assess the specific circumstances of the case and decide on the appropriate fine to impose.

“MINDEF (Ministry of Defence) and SAF have established guidelines on fine amounts based on offence severity and rank of the offender, and we'll adjust these guidelines ... when the amendments take effect,” he said.

INTRODUCTION OF COMPOSITION FINES

As for composition fines, Dr Ng pointed out that there is currently no option for MINDEF to offer composition for minor military offences.

The amendments allow for composition fines of up to S$5,000, or half of the maximum fine prescribed for the offence, or half the maximum fine that may be imposed for the offence at summary trial, whichever is lowest. This will help to resolve minor offences “efficaciously while maintaining deterrence”, he said.

Designated officers will be authorised by the Armed Forces Council to offer composition to such offenders. These officers will not be in the same chain of command as the accused serviceman.

“This will ensure that an independent officer assesses the circumstances of the case before making an offer of composition,” Dr Ng said.

Composition fines with identical limits will also be introduced for Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel who commit minor disciplinary or service offences respectively.

Composition fines in the SPF will apply to full-time national servicemen (NSF), operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen), volunteer ex-NSmen, volunteers serving under the Special Constabulary, and special police officers.

Composition fines in the SCDF will apply to NSFs, NSmen, volunteer ex-NSmen and auxiliary members, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen speaking in Parliament on Aug 2, 2022.

MP Dennis Tan (WP-Aljunied) questioned if offences dealt with a composition fine will be added to a serviceman’s disciplinary records, similar to a summary trial trial conviction, and possibly affect his performance review.

“On the other hand, if compounded offences are scrubbed from the personnel records, will the records not show an inaccurate picture of a serviceman’s disciplinary records, with misdemeanours and commission of less so-called serious offences not being reflected?” he asked.

In his closing speech, Dr Ng said: “I will say broadly our most common offences are IPPT infractions and smoking in non-designated areas ... but probably we will not keep that on (the record).

“But if he repeatedly misses an IPPT or purposefully goes against a superior’s order not to smoke in that area, that's a very different kind of situation.”

Mr Ng also asked if the composition fine has the effect of an acquittal, and if not, whether it will be considered an antecedent for future military offences.

Dr Ng replied that all cases referred to an authorised composition officer will have no charges preferred.

“Once a composition sum is paid, no further proceedings are to be taken against the accused for the alleged offence,” he said.

INCREASE IN MAXIMUM JAIL TERMS

Beyond fines, the amendments will increase the maximum imprisonment term for the offence of insubordinate behaviour by assaulting a superior officer during active service from five years to seven years.

The maximum imprisonment sentence for the same offence committed during peacetime will be increased from two years to four years.

The SAF Act currently provides for a maximum five-year imprisonment sentence for any insubordinate behaviour, including the act of assaulting a superior officer.

In contrast, the Penal Code provides for a maximum imprisonment sentence of seven years for someone who abets an SAF serviceman in assaulting his superior.

“Therefore an inconsistency exists, as the abettor can be punished more harshly than the actual offender,” Dr Ng said.

“These changes remove the disparity with the punishment for abetment in the Penal Code. There will be no changes to the penalties for other acts of insubordination," he added.

ALIGNING MILITARY AND CIVIL COURTS PRACTICES

The amendments will maintain consistency in the punishment powers of the military and civil courts for the same civil offence, Dr Ng said.

For instance, a military court can impose caning for offences in which such a punishment can be meted out by a civil court.

The amendments will also clarify that suspected deserters arrested by the SPF may be released instead of being brought before a civil court.

Currently, an SAF serviceman arrested by the police for absence without official leave (AWOL) or desertion shall be taken as soon as possible before a civil court, with no other course of action available to the police.

The amendment will give the police the option to release such arrested persons instead of bringing them before the civil court, Dr Ng said, adding that this will align the SAF Act with the Constitution that requires an arrested person to be either released or brought before a magistrate within 48 hours.

TRIALS FOR SERVICEMEN WHO COMMIT CIVIL AND RELATED MILITARY OFFENCES

The changes to the law will allow the three-year limitation period for the trial of offences in military courts to start later in certain situations.

Currently under the SAF Act, a serviceman must be tried within three years from the date of the commission of the offence, or the date of when the offence was reported to a disciplinary officer or military policeman, whichever is later.

Once these three years have passed, he can no longer be dealt with under the SAF Act.

“However, in some cases where both military and civilian offences have been committed by the same offender, time is required for police investigations or related civil court proceedings to conclude, so as to allow MINDEF to assess all available and relevant information, before deciding whether to charge a serviceman for a related military offence,” Dr Ng said.

The amendments will provide four additional dates from which the three-year limitation period starts to run:

  • First, where police investigations have started for a related civil offence before the end of the default limitation period, the three-year limitation period will start from the date those investigations end;
  • Second, if court proceedings for a related civil offence are instituted in a civil court before the end of the default limitation period, the three-year limitation period will start from the date those proceedings end. If the person is sentenced to imprisonment, detention or reformative training as a result of those proceedings, the limitation period will start from the date on which the person completes the sentence;
  • Third, if the person is sentenced to imprisonment, detention or reformative training before the end of the default limitation period for any unrelated civil offence, the three-year limitation period will start from the date on which the person completes the sentence;
  • Fourth, if an arrest warrant was issued before the end of the default limitation period and could not be executed within that period, despite all reasonable efforts as the whereabouts of the accused were unknown, the three-year limitation period will commence only on the date the person is arrested.

Dr Ng reiterated that servicemen will not be charged in the civil court and military court for the same offence.

“Any charges in the military court would be for discrete and separate military offences to be dealt with in the military courts, after the conclusion of the civil court proceedings,” he added.

Source: CNA/hz(mi)

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