Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has weighed-in on the case of the High Court striking out a lawsuit brought against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on 3 Mar. The family of PTE Dominique Sarron Lee sued SAF, as well as his platoon commander and the chief safety officer of the exercise, alleging negligence on their part.
The soldier had died due to an allergic reaction in a training exercise after a platoon commander threw six smoke grenades, even though regulations specified no more than two grenades were to have been used.
All three defendants argued that there is no reasonable cause of action and that the suit is frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the court process. The Judicial Commissioner agreed with the defendants, and besides dismissing the case he also asked the family of PTE Lee to pay the legal costs of the defendants.
After the case received much attention online, as well as the intervention of an opposition political party, the SAF today issued a clarification on the case.
Despite the explanation from SAF, the furore over the case seems to not have ended. Late on Monday night (7 Mar) Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote in his Facebook weighing-in on the topic.
Mr Ng said, “the High Court judgement in awarding MINDEF (Ministry of Defence) costs is based on sound legal grounds and precedents,” but that his Ministry “need not add to the pain and anguish of the family of the late PTE Lee.”
“We should waive the costs to the family,” the Defence Minister wrote to MINDEF and SAF staff.
He emphasised that SAF commanders “should continue to train their men professionally, with due regard for safety regulations,” and that “no one wishes for their trainees to be injured or worse still, face death.”
“We must learn from every accident, fix lapses and improve,” Mr Ng added.
Meanwhile the family of the dead soldier has commented in a Facebook dedicated to PTE Lee that:
“MINDEF/SAF has not apologised formally to the family for the incident resulting in Dominique’s death. We had previously requested that the Minister for Defence offer the apology directly to Dominique’s mum as acknowledgement of the negligence on their part, and of the grief she has suffered, but we were rebuffed. We were told by the MINDEF representative, in no uncertain terms, that the Minister will never apologise for the incident, nor will any senior official from MINDEF/SAF.
“Subsequently, we offered an olive branch to MINDEF. Instead of the personal apology, we requested for MINDEF to pay for Dom’s tomb as a symbolic gesture, but this was again rejected. Legal constraints were cited as the reason for the rejection. It is only today (7 March 2016) that we see the first statement of apology from MINDEF in their Facebook statement addressed to the general public.”