When this writer was a national serviceman, his bunkmate in the transport battalion was tasked with driving vehicles to different locations of the camp complex. Unfortunately for him, his vehicle collided head-on with an ambulance coming down from the opposite direction on the ramp. Over the next few weeks, he constantly feared that being sent to the Detention Barracks (DB), would cause rejection from future employment or further education opportunities after he passes out (ORD).
These are the common worries of NSFs when they find themselves in situations like these. Oftentimes, they worry about the potential effects which a criminal record may have on their future job and educational prospects when awarded punishment of Stoppage of Leave or getting sent to the DB. Yet, little is said about whether getting charged with such offences during National Service may jeopardize their opportunities after they ORD.
The short answer to this question is two-fold: it depends on the offence committed, and it depends on the questions asked.
The following is a sample job application form for the Singapore Public Service as well as the standard application form for the National University of Singapore (NUS). Within them are also several common application questions.
Type of Offence Matters:
It is important to clarify that informal punishments and summary trials for minor offences will not affect you in any way after NS. Accordingly, some examples of such minor offenses include the extra duties one is given for having long sideburns. Even a Stoppage of Leave (SoL) for non-compliance to a lawful order will not be reflected in a civilian criminal record.
Where ambiguity lies is in civil offences committed which are chargeable under the Section 112 of the Singapore Armed Forces Act (Cap 295), which states the following under subsection 1:
“Subject to subsection (2), every person subject to military law who commits any of the following offences:
(a) any offence under sections 121 and 121A of the Penal Code (Cap. 224);
(c) culpable homicide not amounting to murder;
(e) any other offence which when committed in Singapore is punishable by the law of Singapore,
shall, if charged under this section with any such offence, be liable to be tried by a subordinate military court.”
Subsection 1(e) effectively carries over the entirety of the civil law system into military law. Therefore, an NSF who committed a civilian offence (e.g. theft or shoplifting committed outside of camp during one’s period of service) and is charged under this act will still have the offence transferred to the individual’s criminal records.
However, there are instances where an NSF may commit an act which may seem like a civilian offence, but is charged under another section of the Singapore Armed Forces Act. This requalifies the offence as being only a military offence. For instance, Section 25 of the SAF Act (Cap 295) states that:
“Every person subject to military law who is guilty of any act, conduct or neglect to the prejudice of good order or discipline shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction by a subordinate military court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or any less punishment authorised by this Act.”
The broad phrasing of this provision covers a wide range of conduct. For instance, an NSF found guilty of in-camp theft may be charged under this provision. If so, his criminal offence will not be recorded under his civilian transcript.
Ultimately, because there are some criminal offences which may chargeable under Section 112 of the SAF act or a separate provision, the deciding factor regarding whether one’s civilian criminal record will be affected depends on how one’s offence is framed.
Special situation: Crime-free Period
Nonetheless, even if a criminal record is established, all hope is not lost for the NSF. Section 7B, subsection 2 of the Registrations of Criminals Acts (Cap 268) states that:
“The record in the register of a person’s conviction within Singapore for a crime shall become spent on the expiration of the crime-free period applicable to the person, unless he is disqualified under section 7C.”
Therefore, after not being convicted of a crime for a consecutive five-year period, a person is legally allowed to declare that he has no criminal record. However, he must still answer “yes” if he is asked whether he has ever been convicted in a court of law. This difference is crucial. While it is true that the offences for which the individual was convicted of has been voided, the fact of the matter is that the military court is still a court of law in Singapore, and that the process of being charged still took place.
However, from the Third Schedule of the Registration of Criminals Act, there are some offences for which the criminal record will remain for a lifetime. For instance, misuse of drugs, rape and kidnapping are permanent entries into one’s civilian criminal record, even if those offences were committed during NS.
For the most part, common offences resulting in GCM such as being AWOL or displaying some negligence in discharging of one’s duty do not affect criminal records, even if the resulting punishment is one being sent to the detention barracks. This is the case of the NSF in the example above, who is currently pursuing his studies at NUS right now. However, it is understandable for some to think that employers may be biased against NSFs who WERE previously charged in GCM/in any court. Therefore, the specter of worry over committing criminal offences during NS is not entirely unfounded.