To adopt anything less than the statutory maximum sentence as the starting point for the "worst" type of national service defaulters who completely dodge their obligations would be inadequate.
The High Court said this as it set out written reasons for why NS dodgers who return to Singapore past the age of 40 should get sentences close to three years in jail, the maximum prescribed by law.
Singaporean men have to register for NS when they reach the age of 161/2 years, and are obliged to serve up to age 40.
The court said the conduct of a person who defaulted for a long period of time, such as when he returned past the age of 40 and it was no longer possible for him to serve any of his NS obligations, fell within the most serious instances of the offence.
Currently, every Singaporean male has to serve two years of full-time NS as well as reservist obligations. According to the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), reservist obligations may potentially add up to 400 days of service during peacetime, based on 10 years of reservist cycles and a maximum annual call-up of 40 days.
At the same time, the court rejected the view that the sentence to be meted out to an NS defaulter should be based on whether he has a "substantial connection" to Singapore or the amount of benefits he has enjoyed as a citizen.
Last year, Justice Chan Seng Onn took the view that the longer a defaulter stays away from Singapore, the lower his culpability.
THE NS DEFAULTERS
ANG LEE THYE, 43
He left with his family for America at the age of 14 in 1987. In 2009, he said he would return only if he received "reasonable fines". He reported to the Central Manpower Base in 2015 at the age of 41.
Default period: 231/2 years
Initial sentence: Two years in jail
Sentence now: Two years and nine months in jail
SAKTHIKANESH CHIDAMBARAM, 26, and VANDANA KUMAR CHIDAMBARAM, 23
Their Singaporean mother, who had settled down in India, gave birth to them in Singapore. She took them to India when they were still infants. Called up for NS in 2008, Sakthikanesh returned only in 2014 and has since completed full-time NS.
Default period: Five years and six months
Initial sentence: Three weeks in jail
Sentence now: 10 weeks in jail
Vandana was called up for NS in 2010 but returned here to enlist only in 2014. He has served his NS.
Default period: Three years and four months
Initial sentence: $6,000 fine
Sentence now: Seven weeks in jail
He based this on the "fair share argument", that the defaulter who returned later would prospectively enjoy fewer benefits of citizenship than one who returned earlier.
But Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, penning the views of the three- judge panel, disagreed.
"In our view, the determination of whether a male Singaporean has a substantial connection to Singapore and so should be required to serve NS was a matter with policy implications that was within the prerogative of Mindef."
As long as Mindef has issued the enlistment papers, that person would need to serve NS and would be liable for an offence if he fails to comply, said the court.
"Questions as to how he had been connected to Singapore, how long he had been away from Singapore or the extent to which he had benefited from Singapore citizenship would generally be irrelevant to the sentencing of him as an NS defaulter," said the court.
"Any other view would severely undermine the principle of universality and equity by differentiating between classes of Singapore citizenship, when in truth, no such differentiation exists."