In 1972, on a Friday afternoon and with a sense of urgency, a Parliament in Singapore considered a bill which seeks the “protection of our rights and the rights of our future generations to survive.” Unfortunately, it isn’t the Singapore Armed Forces Bill beloved by all military personnel and military lawyers today, but a mouthful of a bill called the Constitution (Amendment) (Protection of the Sovereignty of the Republic of Singapore).
The man in action was Mr E.W. Barker, who proposed Article 52J of the Constitution (Amendment) (Protection of the Sovereignty of the Republic of Singapore). During the Second Reading, he pointed out that the lack of a two-third vote through a national referendum would open Singapore to certain vulnerabilities. “War by force of arms is not necessarily the only means employed”  he said. “The gradual erosion of the mind of a nation may well be achieved by persuasive arguments stemming from vested interests, often foreign” he warned. With the memories of war and independence imprinted on Singapore, the Parliament walked through the consequences of foreign interest attempting to persuade Singaporean to surrender their sovereignty, how “merger” may in reality be a take-over and how modern mass media can mould the climate of public opinion. Within the next 1 hour and 30 mins, a small shift was made toward the protection of our military traditions and the sovereignty of our nation from the “seductive blandishments of foreign agents”. Truly, the sovereignty of our nation and military traditions has become tightly bound into the constitution of Singapore. Today, this grand position sits proudly on the wording of Article 6 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.
Against this backdrop, the military tradition is constitutionally recognised as a fundamental part of Singapore. There is no better reflection of this military tradition than the Singapore Armed Forces Act.
The Singapore Armed Forces Act holds that all regular servicemen, full-time national servicemen and operational ready national servicemen are subject to military law. This includes any officers and soldiers belonging to the Commonwealth or foreign forces who are attached for services with the Singapore Armed Forced.  Unfortunately, civilians and volunteer, who report or engaged in service with the Singapore Armed Forces are not spared. Who are the Singapore Armed Forces? They are the unified force consisting of the army, air force and navy commands. Each consisting of a certain number of servicemen.
On a serious note, servicemen, civilians, volunteers, officers and soldiers caught under the Singapore Armed Forces Act can be tried by Subordinate Military Courts for all military offences under the Singapore Armed Forces Act. This is subject to any appeals to the Military Court of Appeal.
The case of 2SG SS  is illustrative of such a process.
A company was carrying out a clearing exercise in a live-firing area in one of the camps. Before the leaving the base, a Captain instructed the men not to touch anything ‘suspicious’ or ‘unknown’. During the process, a torch-like metal object was found. 2SG SS instructed PTE to carry the metal object back. However, upon arriving at base, the object exploded and injured 2 SG SS and PTE.
The following two charges were brought against 2SG SS in the General Court Martial/Subordinate Military Court.
S17(1) of the Singapore Armed Forces Act:
“Every person subject to military law who by words or behaviour wilfully disobeys any lawful order, by whatever means communicated to him, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction by a subordinate military court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years, and, if the offence is committed during active service, such person shall be liable on conviction by a subordinate military court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years or any less punishment authorised by this Act.”
s25 of the Singapore Armed Forces Act:
“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 General Court Martial/Subordinate Military Court acquitted him as the torch-like metal object did not appear ‘suspicious’. Therefore, 2SG SS was not disobeying the Captain’s instructions.
On appeal from the Chief Military Prosecutor to the Military Court of Appeal, it noted that there was a Training Circular which affirmed the Captain’s instructions. However, there was no evidence that 2SG SS had notice of such safety instructions in the Training Circular. Therefore, the acquittal was upheld.
The Singapore Armed Forces is important as it is a fundamental part of the constitution of Singapore. Military personnel should be aware of the legal issues and the military law that governs their lives. If anything, 2SG SS  illustrates the importance of understanding these issues and how even the simplest of matters such as providing clear instructions or proper training manuals may affect servicemen.
Photo: "Outstanding NSF sentenced to 6-weeks jail for evading National Service", The Independent, 11 February 2016. http://theindependent.sg/outstanding-nsf-sentenced-6-weeks-jail-for-evading-national-service/ (Last updated 11 February 2016)