A 20-year-old who was initially jailed two months for dodging full-time national service (NS) yesterday had the jail term reduced to a $3,000 fine on his appeal.
The decision came from a special court of three judges, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, after hearing arguments on whether a jail term was warranted in the case of Mohammed Ibrahim Hamzah, who dodged NS for for just over a year and three months.
The court will give detailed written reasons at a later date.
Much of the discussion in court revolved around the ministerial statement made by then Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean in 2006, announcing a tougher stance against NS defaulters in the wake of a public outcry over the case of pianist Melvyn Tan.
Mr Tan, who went to study music in England in 1969 at age 12, did not return for 28 years after he evaded NS. He stepped foot in Singapore again in 2005 at age 49, as a British citizen, to visit his ageing parents.
A furore was raised over the $3,000 fine meted out to him for evading NS, with many questioning if this was too lenient.
In the 2006 statement, Mr Teo raised the maximum fine for defaulters from $5,000 to $10,000.
He also said Mindef will seek jail terms for those who evaded NS for more than two years but are young enough to serve their duties.
So, the issue in the current case was whether a jail term was justified for Mohammed Ibrahim since the period of his default was under two years.
Mohammed Ibrahim was required to register for NS by Feb 28, 2012, but failed to do so and ignored reminders.
He was arrested in June last year because he was listed as a wanted person for absconding from the Singapore Boy's Hostel and for evading NS.
Yesterday, Chief Justice Menon noted that Mr Teo's statement was made following the Melvyn Tan case.
He questioned if the two-year cut-off stated by Mr Teo applied only to defaulters like Mr Tan, who returned from abroad, or included "local" defaulters like the current case.
Mr Joel Chng, who was appointed amicus curiae, or friend of the court, to give an independent view, said he did not think Mr Teo drew a distinction between local and overseas NS defaulters.
He argued that Mohammed Ibrahim, who was out on bail pending his appeal, should only be fined as his case was "unexceptional" and did not warrant a departure from the usual position that jail was imposed on those who evade NS for two years or more.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Tai Wei Shyong echoed Mr Chng's view that the two-year mark is to be applied generally. However, he argued that a jail term was justified in this case.
The DPP argued that Mohammed Ibrahim had deliberately evaded NS so that he would not be sent back to the Boys' Hostel. He argued that Mohammed Ibrahim fell within the two-year cut-off only because he was arrested.
But Chief Justice Menon said this was in the realm of speculation, because while Mohammed Ibrahim could have continued evading NS for more than two years, he could also have surrendered earlier.
This article was first published on Nov 7, 2014.
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