Fulfilling National Service (NS) duties takes precedence over personal goals, and it is not up to an individual to cherry-pick when to serve the nation, said a High Court judge today (Feb 11), as he increased the sentence of an NS evader to one-and-a-half months’ jail.
Justice Chan Seng Onn’s comments came as he allowed prosecutors’ appeal against the S$4,500 fine imposed on Brian Joseph Chow, 25, who had evaded serving NS for more than six years.
Chow moved to Australia in 2005, claiming that the local education system fell short in addressing his attention deficit disorder.
Two years later, he turned 16 years and six months old, and was required under the Enlistment Act to register for a valid exit permit (VEP) to remain outside Singapore.
But Chow never did, ignoring four notices from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) between January and May 2008 to register for NS. He claimed to be unaware of these notices, and requested for deferment twice in 2009 to complete his four-year university education.
The requests were turned down, but Chow only returned to Singapore in May 2013 after graduating. He then surrendered to the authorities and enlisted in November the same year, going through specialist cadet school and combat intelligence school. He has completed serving NS.
Today, Justice Chan noted that the defence policy is set by MINDEF, which gets to decide when and how a male Singaporean would serve NS.
In evading NS in favour of his studies, Chow had gained an unfair advantage over his peers, said the judge. Besides potentially dampening the morale and commitment of other male Singaporeans, individuals who deferred NS could become less suited for a combat role due to their relatively older age, and shorten the window to fully complete their reservist duties, he added
The judge added that the sentencing of overseas defaulters was based on the argument of fairness. The custodial threshold will generally be crossed when an overseas defaulter who has a “substantial connection” to Singapore remains overseas without a VEP for more than two years, he said.
In Chow’s case, he left Singapore after years of education, but his family resides here and he intended to do the same.
“He therefore has and will reap the benefits of Singapore citizenship and has, by delaying his NS obligations, violated the principles of equity and universality and undermined the fair share argument,” said Justice Chan.
Factors that will influence the sentence for an offender include the number of years he evades NS and whether he surrendered voluntarily, while exceptional performance during NS could be a mitigating factor and warrant a “discount” of penalties, he added.
Justice Chan said he would have jailed Chow for slightly below three months if not for his stellar performance in NS. His commanders had written testimonials in support of his performance in NS.