The Military Justice Project (“MJP”) held its 4th annual Roundtable on 14th September 2018. Following annual tradition, this year’s Roundtable was graced with the familiar presence of several distinguished guests who have dedicated much of their services to Military Law. Contributing to our panel discussions were the venerable Mr Christopher Goh, District Judge at the State Courts and President at the Singapore Armed Forces (“SAF”) Court Martials, Mr Ranjit Singh, retired Military Prosecutor and Investigating Officer with more than 30 years of experience in the SAF, and Mr Louis D’Souza, Senior Deputy Director with the Legal Aid Bureau and former District Judge at the State Courts.
Moderated by the President of the MJP, Mr Abhishek Srivastava, the panellists spoke of their time and experiences working with the Military Justice System, elaborating on its principles and procedures. As a veteran of both Military and Civil courts, Mr Christopher Goh recounted about his time as a President in the SAF Court Martial, comparing it to his experience in the State Courts. In doing so, he highlighted the differences in the philosophies governing both courts, in particular, the focus on discipline in the SAF and expounding on the principles of rehabilitation and deterrence. The panellists also provided their thoughts on the problems faced by Defending Officers, such as the availability of materials or the limitations of manpower. This culminated in an exciting debate with the audience on how possible improvements could be made.
Mr Christopher Goh also brought the audience on a trip down the passages of history, speaking of the origins of the SAF Act and its inspiration from the British Military Acts. All three panellists chipped in as they discussed how many provisions and acts, such as Section 25 of the SAF Act, Conduct to prejudice of good order or discipline, are unique to the SAF and were necessary to uphold a higher standard expected of the SAF and not the public
Mr Ranjit Singh weighed in on the issue of the training and take-up rate of Defending Officers, deliberating on the need for units to prioritize training and the limited time provided in conscription. Using his experience as a Military Prosecutor, Mr Ranjit Singh spoke of the various safeguards protecting the rights of the accused, bringing attention to the different powers held by Junior and Senior Disciplinary Officers and how inaccurate sentences may be overturned by the vetting processes of the Director of Manpower. For example, a Junior Disciplinary Officer’s (“JDO”) decision to prescribe 40 days of detention to a serviceman would be overturned as the JDO would have exceeded his authority.
Mr Ranjit Singh further led a discussion on how prosecutorial discretion is exercised when the prosecutors advise a charge and how many cases do not arrive at court. Using the civil offence of Section 379, Punishment for theft, and Section 381, Theft by clerk or servant of property, of the Penal Code as examples, Mr Christopher Goh added how the prosecution weighs the severity of the offences and the sentences prescribed in deciding which offences the serviceman will be charged with.
In response to the many queries by the audience, Mr Louis D’Souza addressed the possibilities on the SAF opening up to external parties to assist with Military justice. Mr Louis D’Souza emphasised on the differences between military policy and public policy. He explained how external parties, by not being a part of and going through the SAF, may not be able to fully grasp the principles propounded or the standards expected of military serviceman. Mr Louis D’Souza reiterated that the focus of prosecution in the SAF was not about punishment, but about rehabilitation and the enforcement of discipline, ensuring that convicted servicemen would be able to re-enter service as soon as possible. Together the panellists evaluated on the possibilities of having a volunteer pro-bono scheme for lawyers to come in and assist prosecuted servicemen with legal advice. While promising, many constraints were identified, such as the difficulties faced by lawyers in enter camps and the nature of military offences.
In wrapping up, the panellists brought the discussion full circle to encourage and inform the audience on how they could help servicemen in need. Comparisons were made with overseas jurisdictions such as the United States where law students were given opportunities to assist military personal. The panellists advised law students to take inspiration from materials available in the public domain as well other jurisdictions with libraries full of information on military law.
Before long, much time had passed and the Roundtable concluded on a high note with plenty of pizza and light-hearted discussion. Once again, the Roundtable proved itself an interesting and engaging learning platform for students, shedding light on the procedures and principles behind matters of Military Law.
MJP would like to thank our distinguished guests and the members of the audience for taking time out of their busy schedules to contribute to the MJP Roundtable 2018. In recognition of the pivotal role the Military Justice System plays in our country, we strive to keep the fires of its debates burning in pursuit of its perpetual improvement and potential.