Military Law and How It Affects Every Singaporean Son

Last updated on January 3, 2024

Every able-bodied male citizen will be conscripted when he turns 18. Most of them will end up serving in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The Singapore Armed Forces Act is the main piece of legislation that defines military law in Singapore.

First and foremost, who is subjected to Military Law? Section 3 of the SAF Act provides guidance on this issue:

  • Regular Servicemen and Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs), from the time they are required to enlist till the completion of their National Service/lawfully discharged from the SAF.
  • Operational National Servicemen from the time they are ordered to report for reservist, regardless of whether they have complied with that order or not
  • Civilians who are in the service of SAF when engaged on active service
  • Civilians, otherwise not subjected to military law, who are followers of, or accompany the SAF when engaged on active service.
  • Officers and soldiers of foreign armed forces who are attached to or seconded for service with the SAF.
  • Volunteers during the period that they are ordered back to camp, whether they have complied with such order or not.

The significance of being subject to Military law, as listed in section 3 above, is liability for military offences. According to section 4 of the SAF Act, every person subject to Military Law will be tried by subordinate military courts for any military offence and by a disciplinary officer for any offence specified in the First Schedule.

Sections 11 to 59 of the SAF Act list the myriad of military offences one could be charged with if he commits an offence while he is subject to Military Law, while the First Schedule lists certain offences from sections 11 – 59 (known as “specified offences”) one can be charged with by a disciplinary officer.

Here are some of the more common offences that soldiers commit:

Section 21: Disobedience of General Order

A person is said to be guilty of this charge if he failed to comply with any lawful order, with the order being a provision that he might be reasonably expected to know. It can be argued that even the carrying of a camera phone into camp in knowing contravention of orders constitutes a disobedience of general order.

The stipulated punishment is a jail term of up to 2 years or any less punishment authorised by the SAF Act.

Section 22: Absence Without Official Leave (AWOL)

AWOL is unique in a sense that it is usually only an offence in a military setting. If an employee in the private sector decides not to turn up for work one day, the employer might decide to fire him, with the employee not liable for criminal prosecution. However, if a soldier or anyone who is subject to Military Law decides to go “AWOL”, he shall then be guilty of this offence, unless he can prove that he was a victim of his circumstances.

If the person subject to Military Law can prove that his absence was a result of circumstances over which he had no control, it shall be a valid defence and the person would be acquitted of the charge.

Example: PTE Lim did not report back to camp when he should have. This would normally result in PTE Lim being charged with AWOL. However, PTE Lim managed to show that he was not able to return to camp on time because his flight got cancelled at the very last minute, PTE Lim will not be guilty of the offence as this was a circumstance in which he had no control over.

The stipulated punishment is a jail term of up to 2 years or any less punishment authorised by the SAF Act.

Section 43: Dishonest Misappropriation of Singapore Armed Forces Property

This offence has two subsections to it, with them being:

  1. Steals or dishonestly misappropriates any Singapore Armed Forces property or any property belonging to a person subject to military law or is concerned in the stealing or dishonest misappropriation of any such property; or
  2. Receives any property belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces or to a person subject to military law knowing it to have been stolen or to have been dishonestly misappropriated

In essence, anyone who steals or abets in the stealing of property that belongs to the SAF or property that belongs to person subjected to military law shall be guilty of section 43(a).

Anyone who knowingly receives any property that belongs to the SAF or property belonging to the person subject to Military Law shall be guilty of section 43(b).

The stipulated punishment when the misappropriated property concerned is a vessel, aircraft or firearm is a jail term of up to 7 years, any other cases would warrant a jail term of up to 3 years or any less punishment authorised by the SAF Act.

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