By Gloria James-Civetta

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Can SAF Personnel be Held Criminally Liable for Rash Acts?

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Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel may be held criminally liable and prosecuted for rash and negligent acts in the course of their military duties, which lead to injury or death.
In the recent case involving PTE Dominique Lee, the SAF officers responsible for the safety of the training exercise were not charged as the discretion to bring criminal proceedings in such cases ultimately lies with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), rather than the SAF themselves and AGC placed weight on the fact that the PTE Dominic’s allergic reaction to the smoke grenades thrown were not “reasonably foreseeable”. In this case although AGC did not charge the officers, military courts had dealt with the officers according to military law.

However, for civil claims, SAF personnel who caused injuries or death to a serviceman during the course of his military duties will likely be indemnified against negligence lawsuits due to section 14 of the Government Proceedings Act.

However, one of our lawyers, Muntaz Zainuddin, explained to the TODAY newspaper that there is an exception to this. An SAF officer may be held civilly liable to an injured serviceman if the injury or death arose out of an act which has no connection with the duties that the officer or serviceman is supposed to ordinarily carry out:

“Let’s say it has nothing to do with the duties that (the soldier) is supposed to carry out, but (the officer) made the soldier do (an act that resulted in death or injury), then he (the officer) would be liable.”

Associate Professor Eugene Tan at Singapore Management University (SMU) has thus commented that the defense under the Government Proceedings Act strikes a balance between immunity for the armed forces and ensuring that military personnel are not careless in their duty.

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