Every man has a right to be heard and a right to a fair hearing when being charged in court. However, the rights that the Accused holds differs from court to court. The Military Court in Singapore also endows the alleged servicemen with certain rights, allowing trials to be heard in the fairest manner possible.
There are two different ways a serviceman can be tried:
(1) A trial before the serviceman’s unit (Summary Trial) or, for a more serious offence;
(2) A trial before the General Court Martial.
This article will address the rights of a serviceman when he is tried before the ST.
Right to understand the charges against him
Every accused serviceman is given the right to hear the charges brought against him. He must understand the charge against him before he can exercise his right to be heard and to provide a defense. If he is unable to understand the charges against him, he has the right to clarify and to have the allegations explained to him, via an interpreter if necessary. The charge sheet must contain the details of the offence such as the date, time, place the offence was committed, against whom the offence was committed and how the offence was committed.
Right to accept or contest the charge(s)
A serviceman also has a right to accept or contest the charges against him. If he accepts the charges, he will be convicted and punished.
However, if he wishes to contest the charges against him, the serviceman has the right to bring in his own witnesses to support why he declines the charges. He can also explain why he is innocent, either orally or in writing. If the Disciplinary Officer brings in witnesses, the serviceman also has the right to challenge the evidence given by the witnesses. After each witness has given his evidence, the serviceman can question the witnesses and challenge the evidence.
Rights to raise mitigating factors
A serviceman can present mitigating factors in his favor. These factors can include his previous good conduct or even the fact that he co-operated during investigations and did not dispute the charges.
Right to be informed of aggravating factors
Aggravating factors refer to factors that warrant a higher punishment as compared to the punishment that would normally be meted out for that particular offence. For example, if the serviceman has previously been charged for theft and commits a theft again, his previous conviction is an aggravating factor.
The serviceman has the right to be informed of aggravating factors considered in his sentencing. This provides the servicemen with a chance to challenge the aggravating factors put forth and possibly reduce his sentence if the Disciplinary Officer accepts his arguments.
Rights pertaining to punishment the Disciplinary Officer imposes
There are two types of punishment that a Disciplinary Officer can impose: a minor or a major punishment. Major punishments include detention, fine, reduction in rank or reprimand. Minor punishments include restriction of privilege, stoppage of leave or extra guard duties.
If a serviceman feels that he will have a fairer trial before the General Court martial (GCM), he could choose to be tries in a GCM. However, a serviceman should also be mindful of the fact that the GCM has the power to award heavier sentences than a Disciplinary Officer.
Right to seek Redress
If the serviceman is unhappy with his conviction, he may write to the Armed Forces Council (AFC) and ask for a review of his case. In the letter there should be a brief account of why he feels he has been tried unfairly.
Legal services will then review the record of proceedings of the ST and will then advise the AFC on the appropriate step to take. The AFC can reject or substitute any conviction or punishment previously passed.