The family of the late Dominique Sarron Lee, who failed in a bid to sue the military over his death in 2012, will see their $22,000 legal bill slashed.
Relatives of the 21-year-old full-time national serviceman attempted to sue the Singapore Armed Forces and two officers in relation to alleged lapses in a 2012 training exercise in which he died after suffering an allergic reaction to fumes from smoke grenades.
The High Court threw out the lawsuit last Thursday, ordering Private Lee's family to pay the legal costs for the three defendants.
But the Defence Ministry and one of the officers, Captain Najib Hanuk Bin Muhamad Jalal, said last night they would waive legal costs amounting to $16,000.
Pte Lee's family may still have to cough up the remaining $6,000 if the other officer, Major Chia Thye Siong, decides to enforce the cost.
The case sparked a public outcry on social media, with many calling for legal costs to be waived and stiffer penalties for the defendants, found guilty in 2013 of negligence in their duties during the exercise.
Mindef confirmed it would waive the $10,000 bill owed, a day after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen urged his ministry to do so in a Facebook post on Monday.
Dr Ng said though the judgment in awarding Mindef costs is based on sound legal grounds and precedents, there was no need to "add to the pain and anguish of the family of the late Pte Lee".
Netizens question officer's promotion
The promotion of the Singapore Armed Forces officer found guilty of negligence in a training incident has sparked intense discussion online.
Army regular Chia Thye Siong, was found guilty and punished in 2013 for his role as chief safety officer during the exercise in which Private Dominique Sarron Lee died after an allergic reaction to fumes from smoke grenades used. Yet a year later, the then captain, was promoted to major.
The move drew fire from the public, who asked about the punishment meted out, with some wondering why he got off lightly and was even promoted.
Pte Lee's family questioned Maj Chia's promotion on Facebook yesterday, saying: "This seems to be a contradiction of the assurances by Mindef and the SAF that the negligent officers have been duly dealt with, that justice has been done."
When contacted, Mindef did not elaborate further on the promotion.
Responding to media queries, Mindef said it provided a one-off welfare grant, usually given to families of servicemen who die or become totally disabled, amounting to $20,000 to Pte Lee's mother in 2012. In addition, Mindef has offered compensation awards to Madam Felicia Seah based on the "full extent of the compensation network". This is generally two to four times the amount provided under the Work Injury Compensation Act, said a Mindef spokesman. "We understand that no amount of compensation will be sufficient."
Mr R. S. Bajwa, the lawyer acting for Capt Najib, the platoon commander who threw the smoke grenades, said his client agreed to waive the cost because "he feels the loss of Pte Lee's family".
It is not clear if Maj Chia, then the exercise chief safety officer, will also waive the remaining $6,000 in legal fees. His lawyer, Mr Laurence Goh Eng Yau, could not be reached.
A Committee of Inquiry and Coroner's Inquiry found that Capt Najib threw six smoke grenades instead of two, flouting the SAF's training safety regulations.
On Monday, the Singapore Army sought to clarify issues regarding Pte Lee's death and said both Maj Chia and Capt Najib were convicted of negligence in a summary trial in 2013. No criminal charges were brought against the men because Pte Lee's allergic reaction was "not reasonably foreseeable". It was the first such death since the SAF started using smoke grenades in the 1970s.
Mindef said last night both servicemen were redeployed to appointments that did not supervise soldiers in training or operations.
Pte Lee's uncle, Mr Sean Seah, said the family has not been approached on the cost waiver and are still considering whether to appeal against Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh's decision.
They also clarified in a Facebook post yesterday that they have not accepted any compensation offer from Mindef or the SAF, and rejected offers from the military to discuss monetary compensation.
"We would like to clarify that this law suit has never been about money. It has always been about getting answers to our questions," the family added.