High Court gives three National Service defaulters heavier sentences

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Photo: Xinhua/Then Chih Wey/IANS

National Service (NS) defaulters who do not serve NS at all will now face a maximum of almost three years in jail, following a ruling from Singapore’s High Court.

According to media reports, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the goal is to ensure those required to serve NS “do not evade their obligations or opt to postpone them to a time or on terms of their own choosing or convenience”.

“Were it otherwise, over time, the attitude that national service can be done on one’s own terms will weaken our national security and this is simply intolerable,” he said.

The Chief Justice was part of a three-judge panel that allowed the prosecution’s appeals for heavier sentences for three men who had evaded NS.

Ang Lee Thye, 43, who evaded NS for 23 and a half years, is currently serving a two-year jail term. The High Court increased this to two years nine months. Ang left Singapore for the United States with his family when he was 14 and did not return until he was 41, when he was no longer subject to the Enlistment Act. The High Court considered Ang in the “worst” category of NS defaulters.

Sakthikanesh Chidambaram, 26, who evaded NS for more than five and a half years, also saw his sentence increased from three to 10 weeks. He had been told to register for NS in 2008 but left for his university education in India, only returning in 2014.

A seven week sentence was imposed on his brother Vandana Kumar Chidambaram, 23, who evaded NS for more than three years. He had initially been given a $6,000 fine. Both brothers have completed their NS obligations.

Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, representing the prosecution, argued, “Lenient treatment of NS defaulters can invoke strong feelings of unfairness on the part of those who serve when called upon, and undermine public commitment to the institution of NS.”

Kwek suggested a sentencing framework based on three categories. For those who dodge NS for more than two years but are able to serve full-time NS in a combat role and reservist obligations in full, there should be a starting point of two to three months’ jail.

Defaulters who evade NS for more than 20 years and are unable to serve full-time NS and reservist, should be jailed for at least three years, he suggested. And when a defaulter dodges NS for about 10 years or is unable to serve full-time NS in a combat role and reservist in full, Kwek suggested a jail term of two years.

The court said it will take up this sentencing framework suggested by the prosecution in a modified form.