The High Court on Mar 3 struck out a lawsuit brought against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). 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.
Carlton Tan, a regular writer for the Asian Correspondent, responded to the clarification by SAF in his Facebook saying that it doesn’t really address the most recent developments, which is “the High Court ruling that says the government cannot be sued for service-related deaths, and the High Court’s decision to award legal costs to the AGC.”
Acknowledging that there’s very little to say on the case until the written judgment can be viewed, he said that “what we do know is that the civil claim was rejected because of a law introduced in the 1960s.”
He further commented that it is uncertain at this point whether the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) will choose to waive the legal costs, and that it’s also unclear why the High Court didn’t exercise its discretion (if it has any) to waive the costs in this case.
Andrew Loh, the former editor of The Online Citizen commented in his Facebook on the case saying that the SAF is right in saying, “we would also like to address the misperception that SAF servicemen injured or killed cannot seek legal recourse under military rules. This is incorrect.”
Mr Loh said that “what the SAF is indemnified from, however, is civil suits (“tort” law).”
Section 14-(1) of the Government Proceedings Act says:
“Nothing done or omitted to be done by a member of the forces while on duty as such shall subject either him or the Government to liability in tort for causing the death of another person, or for causing personal injury to another person, in so far as the death or personal injury is due to anything suffered by that other person while he is a member of the forces if…”
Mr Loh further noted that SAF in its clarification said that it had “taken administrative and disciplinary action against the two officers,” after PTE Lee died in 2012, but that a publicly available document shows that a Captain Chia Thye Song was promoted to the rank of major in 2014.
He asked if the Captain Chia Thye Siong who was promoted 2 years ago is the safety officer involved in the case.
Meanwhile Elliot Aruldoss, a young lawyer, has asked that if such is the law (Section 14 of the Government Proceeding Act (GPA) (Chapter 121)), “what protection can the Government offer to Singaporean men and their families whose sons must serve compulsory National Service?”
He also asked “what is the recourse in a situation where death or personal injury is caused by negligence?” and “what is the policy justification behind such a law?”
Mr Aruldoss commented on his Facebook that “Section 14 of the GPA is a law that must be qualified with the principles of fairness. There must be consequences for individual and corporate action.”
“The case of Private Dominique Sarron Lee involves a lack of accountability of the highest order. Singapore cannot ‘sit by’ and condone such a lack of accountability,” he added.Follow us on Social Media
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