The Military Justice Project (MJP) held its 3rd annual Roundtable on the 25th August 2017. Convening a familiar panel of distinguished guests who have dedicated their services to the Military Law, students had the opportunity to discuss the more recent contentions within the military legal system. This year, our invited panellists were the venerable Mr. Amolat Singh, founder of Amolat & Partners, Associate Mediator of the Family Justice Courts and veteran of the SAF; Mr. Louis D’Souza, Senior Deputy Director with the Legal Aid Bureau and former District Judge at the State Courts, as well as Mr. Laurence Goh, legal practitioner and owner of Laurence Goh Eng Yau & Co, and also the Brigade Commander of the 30th Singapore Infantry Brigade.
Moderated by our incoming Head, Mr. Thomas Lee, our distinguished panellists impressed the audience with their decades worth of experience working within the Military Justice System, shedding light on various contentious issues commonly discussed. Mr. Amolat Singh relived his experience first as a military officer, before being called to conduct the Defending Officer’s Course in his later years as a lawyer, highlighting the common mistakes among DOs in defending their men, and how it may be further improved. Mr. Laurence Goh also mentioned how officers previously trained in the law could take up roles as specialist Staff Officers to better advise their units on legal matters.
This year, our Panelists also addressed the issue with the overlapping jurisdiction of Military and Civil Courts, as the transfer of cases out of a military to a civil jurisdiction may be seen as undermining the Military Courts. Mr. Laurence Goh noted the difference in legal practices between the Military and Civil jurisdictions, reminding us how this can be attributed to the fundamental tenet of upholding discipline within the SAF. Mr. Louis D’Souza, raising the landmark instance of MV Balakrishnan v PP and the more recent contentions on the case of Dominique Sarron Lee, reflected how the additional element of public outcry can affect whether a case is heard in a Military or a Civil Court.
Simply put, the courts’ shared overlapping jurisdictions should not extinguish the State’s discretion to apply military law for affairs strictly reserved for the interests of security, but public organs such as the Attorney General’s Chambers will not be blind to public interest of accountability and may choose to apply Civil law in situations that demands the satisfying of public outcry. This may be attributed to the greater extent of disclosure in cases heard in a Civil Court than a military one.
Wrapping up on an introspective note, the Panelists offered their suggestions on how MJP can continue to serve an ancillary function to better support the Justice System within the SAF. The panellists concurred that the MJP’s role in informing servicemen and DOs of their avenues and redress deserved our utmost attention. This perfectly goes in line with the aims of the MJP – Education, Engagement, and Empowerment – that can be further enhanced through greater publicity and outreach to both DOs and servicemen alike.
Time passed too soon and eventually, the Roundtable concluded, but not before convening for a light-hearted debate over food and beverages. Roundtable this year proved an interesting learning platform for our students, with heated discussions on both procedural and substantive matters of Military Law.
MJP would like to thank our guests and members of the audience for taking time of their busy schedules to come down for the Roundtable. We sincerely believe that keeping an ongoing debate about our military justice system is the best way to recognize the central function it plays within our country, and how it can be better improved.
We also note that Mr. Louis D’Souza is currently working on his book on substantive military law to provide guidance to practitioners, and we wish him all the best in his endeavours.