NSFs

 

You think, I think, who confirm?

 

For most of us, what little we know of the disciplinary system in the SAF comes via informal channels: perhaps during a scolding from your sergeant, or stories from friends exchanged in the cookhouse. Unfortunately, these one-sided opinions often form the basis of our (mis)understanding of the disciplinary system. Therefore, this guide seeks to dispel the rumours and clarify the questions that many have, but never get to ask. If you have any further questions, please contact your unit S1 (Manpower Officer), or email Military Justice Project (militaryjusticeproject@justice.sg) and we will do our best to respond to your queries.

Your Questions Answered

I have just been charged; what does this mean?

Getting charged means that you are accused of having broken the rules, This can be legal rules laid down in the SAF Act, or instructions given by your commander. If you have broken the rules, and are being given a fair punishment, you should accept that you have done wrong, and avoid repeating the same mistake again.

 

If you believe that you have not broken the rules, or feel that you have been wrongly accused, there are several ways in which you can have your views heard. You can always plead not guilty, which means you do not admit to the offence, and prepare to defend your stance. Remember to treat your commanders with respect when expressing your views at all times. You don’t want to be charged for insubordination for being disrespectful to your commanders! 

What is the difference between a Summary Trial and a General Court Martial?

Most of the time, servicemen are charged in a summary trial. A summary trial is a procedure to charge servicemen that commit lesser offences. You will report to your Officer Commanding (OC)’s office, where he will inform you of the offence you are being charged for and mete out the appropriate punishment. This includes informal punishment such as Stoppage of Leave (SOL) or extra duties. Other Junior Disciplinary Officers (JDOs) may also charge you. After every Summary Trial, a report by the Disciplinary Officer will be sent to Mindef Legal Services (MLS).

 

For more serious offences, servicemen are charged in a General Court Martial (GCM). GCMs are held at the Court Martial Centre at Kranji Camp. A judge, or a panel of judges and senior officers will oversee the charge, and a military lawyer will bring the charge against you. The process is more formal, and the court has the power to mete out heavier punishments such as fines and detention. This might also mean that you will kept in closed arrest before your GCM.

I feel that I have been unfairly treated by my commander at the summary trial. What can I do?

Oftentimes, what we perceive as unfairness is simply the result of a misunderstanding. You should always first seek the advice of your Platoon Commander (PC), OC, or even your Commanding Officer (CO); he should be more than willing to clarify any questions you may have. Be sure to follow the chain of command!
 

That said, if you feel that the summary trial is not fair, you may plead not guilty before receiving the charge. This means that you do not admit to the offence and instead seek trial by General Court Martial. Your case will no longer be heard by your OC/CO in a ST, but will be decided by a judge in a GCM. You may have to engage a lawyer at your own expense depending on the complexity of the case. More information on this can be found below.

What if I want to appeal against the decision of the summary trial?

If a serviceman is unhappy with his punishment for any reason, he may write into the Armed Forces Council (AFC) and ask for a review of his case. The letter that the serviceman writes should state the reasons why he is asking for a review. MINDEF Legal Services will review the records of the summary trial and advise AFC – note that AFC can reject or change the punishment after the review.

What is closed arrest? Are there any restrictions on the length of closed arrest?

If you are placed under closed arrest, you will be confined until the date of the GCM. You may be confined either in your camp, or at the Detention Barracks (DB).

 

You may be held under closed arrest for an indefinite period leading up to the GCM. If you are found guilty and sentenced to detention, your time served under closed arrest may be taken into account.

I have been charged and ordered to report for a GCM. What is the procedure like?

The General Court Martial is a formal and public procedure. GCMs are held at the Court Martial Centre in Kranji Camp. Your parents or other relatives are allowed to sit at the back of the court during the trial.

 

In terms of the actual procedure, much depends on whether you intend to admit to the charge (plead guilty), or deny and contest the charge (plead not guilty).

 

If you decide to admit to the charge (i.e plead guilty), the prosecutor (military lawyer) will first read out the charge, as well as an agreed statement of facts, which sets out the offence committed. You will have a chance to add or make corrections to the statement of facts. As long as there are no major changes, this is usually a smooth procedure. You will then be formally asked to admit to the charges. If you do, you or your lawyer will have a chance to give a mitigating statement, where you can ask the court to impose a light sentence.

 

If however, you decide to deny the charges (i.e. plead not guilty), the case must proceed to trial. This means that the military court will hear your case and decide a verdict. This can sometimes be rather complex, and you can defend yourself, hire a lawyer, or be defended by a Defending Officer from your unit. 

Can I get a lawyer to represent me in a GCM?

Yes, you may hire a lawyer. That said, there are three possible options to consider regarding your representation in a GCM.

 

First, it is possible for you to defend yourself in court if you so wish. However, this is not advised for more complex cases where you intend to contest the charges.

 

Second, and most commonly, every serviceman who is charged in GCM will be assigned a Defending Officer (DO). Typically, the DO is an officer from your unit who was not involved in the investigation process. DOs do not need to be legally trained. DOs only give mitigating statements for servicemen who plead guilty; more complex defence cases should be handled by legal professionals.

 

Third, you may engage a civilian lawyer if you wish to. However, if you decide to engage a lawyer, do note that you will have to personally bear the lawyer's fees, which might be substantial. 

Can I appeal against the decision of the General Court Martial?

Yes. There are two ways you may appeal against the decision of a GCM.

 

You may petition to the Armed Forces Council (AFC) to review your conviction and sentence. MINDEF’s Director of Manpower will review your case and make a decision on it. As you are simply submitting an application for review, there is no need to attend another trial.

 

You may also appeal to the Military Court of Appeal (MCA). This would involve another trial before a Supreme Court judge accompanied by a panel of senior lawyers and senior officers. During this trial, your case will be reconsidered and a decision will be made by the MCA. The decision made by the MCA is final. Do note that the prosecution can also appeal to the MCA if they are not satisfied with the sentence or conviction at GCM. 

 

If I have been charged and sent to DB, will I have a civil criminal record that can be viewed by civilian employers/schools?

A criminal record is not dependent on your sentence but on the offence committed. That is to say, if you have been sent to DB, it will not show up on your record automatically.

 

An offence committed that falls under the Registration of Criminals Act, such as theft, rape or drug-related offences, will be reflected on your civil criminal record. However, if you are charged for offences under the SAF Act only, it is likely that the offence does not fall under the Registration of Criminals Act. 

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