‘Worst’ NS defaulters face close to 3 years’ jail

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High Court increases sentences of three national service defaulters on appeal

In a clear signal that the courts will not tolerate national security being undermined by those who ignore the call to serve national service (NS), the High Court ruled that the "worst" category of NS defaulters - those who do not serve their obligations at all - will face close to the maximum of three years' jail.

This came as a three-judge panel allowed the prosecution's appeals for heavier sentences for three men, two of them brothers, who had dodged NS for varying durations.

Ang Lee Thye, 43, who evaded NS for 23½ years - the longest possible under the Enlistment Act - was given two years and nine months' jail. He is serving his original two-year jail term and will now have to serve a longer one.

Singaporean men have to register for national service when they reach the age of 16½ years and are obliged to serve up to 40. Ang was 41 when he returned to Singapore from the US.

Sakthikanesh Chidambaram, 26, who failed to report for NS for five years, six months and 17 days, was jailed 10 weeks. His original term was three weeks.

Vandana Kumar Chidambaram, 23, who evaded NS for three years, four months and two days, was jailed seven weeks. His initial sentence was a $6,000 fine.

Both brothers completed serving full-time NS last year.

In considering the appeals, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said a key sentencing focus is deterrence 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 court said it will adopt, in a modified form, the sentencing approach suggested by the prosecution. Details on the framework will be elaborated in due course.

The prosecution, represented by Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, 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."

He called for a signal to be sent to those who "game the system" that NS evasion will be met with stiff penalties, and suggested a sentencing framework based on three categories.

For cases where the default period exceeds two years, but the defaulter is still able to serve full-time NS in a combat role and reservist in full, he suggested a starting point of two to three months' jail.

For those who evade for more than 20 years and will not be able to serve full-time NS and reservist, he suggested a starting point of three years.

For a default period of about 10 years or the defaulter is unable to serve full-time NS in a combat role and reservist in full, he suggested two years' jail. The court said that even if a defaulter performs well when he serves NS, this is not a strong factor to get a lower sentence.