SINGAPORE - Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen injured or killed can seek legal recourse under military rules, the SAF has clarified in a Facebook post today (Mar 7).
SAF personnel can, in fact, be charged or punished in criminal courts for committing rash and negligent acts, even during the course of their military duties, the post said.
In a bid to address misconceptions after the High Court threw out a civil suit against the SAF brought by Private Dominique Sarron Lee's family, Brigadier-General Chan Wing Kai, commander of the army's Training and Doctrine Command, said: "The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), not the SAF, decides if the evidence warrants this course of action."
Pte Lee died in 2012 after an allergic reaction to smoke grenades during a military exercise.
After the High Court's decision last Thursday (March 3), Pte Lee's mother, Felicia Seah, put up a Facebook post which triggered an outpouring of sympathy from the public. She called for more to be done to press charges against the defendants.
BG Chan said a Committee of Inquiry (COI) on the case was held in 2012 and the Coroner's Inquiry (CI) in 2013.
The coroner found that Pte Lee had "died from acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes". The coroner also found that this acute allergic reaction was "unlikely to have been predicted".
BG Chan said that as Pte Lee's acute allergic reaction to the smoke grenades thrown by the platoon commander was not reasonably foreseeable, no criminal charges were brought against the two officers.
He also pointed out that the coroner had noted that Pte Lee "had under played and under declared his asthmatic condition".
The two officers involved in the military exercise that resulted in Pte Lee's death did not face criminal charges, but they were punished according to military law, after being found guilty of negligent performance of lawful order or duty in 2013, said BG Chan. However, SAF did not specify what the punishment was.
While Lee's family were ordered to pay the costs of the latest law suit, BG Chan said that prior to this, the family had taken out a preaction discovery application and then they subsequently withdrew it. The court had awarded costs to Mindef, but Mindef had waived the legal costs, he said.
BG Chan also said Mindef and the SAF have been "extending help to Pte Lee's family throughout this period, and remain committed to assisting and providing support to the family".
"Since the incident, welfare grants have been disbursed, and an offer of compensation has been made to the family, based on the full extent allowed by the compensation legislation," he said.
While the compensation amounts were not disclosed, BG Chan said they are "generally two to four times that of amounts provided under the Work Injury Compensation Act for incidents arising from training and operations".
"Once again, the SAF offers our sincere condolences to the family of PTE Lee. The SAF values the life of every soldier and recognises that we are responsible for the sons of Singapore placed under our charge," said BG Chan.
"We will uphold safety standards while ensuring that we build a strong National Service force able to defend Singapore," he added.
Here is the post in full: