Series 2.3: Private Defence in the Singapore Armed Forces

In essence, a soldier who is faced with a threat to personal or property rights is able to defend such rights in circumstances where the force used by him is reasonably proportionate and necessary. This right to defend is called private defence, and is statutorily embedded in section 96 of the Penal Code: “Nothing is an offence which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence”.

When does the right to private defence arise?

Firstly, the soldier must be defending himself against offences affecting the human body, or affecting property belonging to him or any other person (section 97). This right subsists even if the attacker cannot be charged for the offence due to certain mental limitations (section 98).

Secondly, a solider would not have a right to private defence if he has time to seek the assistance of other authorities, such as his superiors (section 99(3)).

Thirdly, the soldier must have reasonably apprehended danger to the body or property (sections 102 and 105(1)). Naturally, the right to private defence ceases to exist once there is no longer such reasonable apprehension.

What are the restrictions or qualifications on the exercise of private defence?

According to section 99(4), a soldier can only inflict such force upon his attacker that is necessary for the purpose of defence, and nothing more. This is ascertained objectively (i.e. what a reasonable person in the soldier’s shoes would consider proportionate). Also, a soldier who was mistaken about the fact that he was attacked may still have the right of private defence, so long as the mistake was a reasonable one to make at that time.

A Case Analysis

In 2012, an electrician was jailed 5 years and 3 months for stealing a rifle from an SCS cadet at SOC grounds. The electrician, who was on drugs at the time, thought that he was under attack, and stole the rifle to protect himself.

In this case, does the cadet have a right to private defence? The answer is yes. Analysing the facts of this case, it is clear that the cadet is defending himself from an offence affecting property (theft), and this right subsisted even though the electrician was labouring under a mental limitation (mistake caused by intoxication by drugs).

Other forms of “Private Defence” scenarios in the SAF?

Firstly, Section 201F (“Restriction on use of force likely to cause death or grievous hurt”) of the Singapore Armed Forces Act allows for a serviceman to do anything likely to cause death or grievous hurt to an attacker, if he believes on reasonable grounds that it was necessary to protect his life, or to protect specified infrastructure.

Secondly, Section 10 (“Defensive measures at protected areas and protected places”) of the Protected Areas and Protected Places Act allows a Minister to lawfully authorise defensive measures which may involve danger to the life of any person entering or attempting to enter a protected area or protected place. This is especially important for soldiers doing guard duty.

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