Series 2.1: "I think my Commander is ‘biased', what should I do?"


Our military justice system plays an essential role in maintaining discipline and order within the SAF. However, it also provides numerous safeguards to ensure that all servicemen and servicewomen who are charged under the SAF Act are given fair and just punishments. In the event that any serviceman feels that he has been wrongly charged or unfairly punished due to bias on the part of his superiors, there are several courses of action that he can take:



Summary Trial


If a serviceman has been dealt an informal punishment (e.g. stoppage of leave, extra duties, etc.) and genuinely believes that the punishment is unfair, he may bring an appeal to a commander up the chain of command.[1] Alternatively, he can request for a summary trial. A summary trial will give him a chance for his case to be heard and deliberated in a fairer manner. All summary trial records are also sent to the Director of Legal Services after the trial itself, whereupon the verdict will be reviewed again and can be amended if the order given at the end of the summary trial is deemed excessive. This serves as an additional safeguard to protect servicemen from disproportionate punishments.



General Court Martial


If the serviceman has been charged in a summary trial and is given a punishment that is not minor [2], he may request for his case to be brought before a general court martial. This is the next stage of the justice system, and is usually reserved for more serious offences. The proceedings here are similar to a criminal trial in the State Courts (including the power to call witnesses to testify and to have them examined and cross-examined). To guard against any potential bias, the accused may object to any of the members in the court; if the objection is taken to be reasonable, that member cannot participate in the proceedings.



Further Appeals


If the serviceman believes that the finding of guilt or the sentence being meted out by the general court martial was unfair, there are two further courses of action that he can take:


First, he may lodge an appeal with the Military Court of Appeal (MCA). If this is done, the court which had previously presided over the matter must write out a judgment stating the justifications for its verdict. The serviceman must then submit a petition of appeal outlining the arguments which support his appeal. A date will then be fixed for the MCA to hear the appeal.


Alternatively, he can petition the Armed Forces Council, which has the power to lessen or even quash the previous sentence, as well as order a re-trial if it deems fit.


It is possible for a serviceman to attempt both of the above at the same time, although it must be forewarned that the decision reached by the MCA has final authority.


Actions that Commanders can take

Commanders themselves can also play their part to avoid allegations of bias when meting out punishments. If a commander may potentially have a personal (or even financial) interest in the matter,[3] he should avoid making decisions on that case and allow someone else to do so, or should perhaps grant the serviceman the right to be tried by a general court martial if necessary.



Conclusion


Our military justice system provides many different avenues of redress for servicemen who believe that they have been unfairly punished by their commanders. This serves to ensure that the servicemen are given ample opportunity to explain their side of the case, and that the punishment being meted out (if any) is fair and reasonable.


[1] That is, a commander who is at least one rank above the serviceman.


[2] “Minor punishments” usually refer to stoppage of leave, extra duties, etc., but may vary depending on one’s military rank. See Regulations 28 to 30 of the Singapore Armed Forces (Summary Trial) Regulations for more.


[3] Common examples include: (a) where a serviceman is being charged for insubordination, and the commander meting out the punishment is the same commander whom the serviceman had committed the offence against, or (b) where the commander presiding over the summary trial is good friends with the commander whom the serviceman had committed the offence against; etc.

#MilitaryJustice

Featured Posts
Recent Posts