A 25-year-old man who left Singapore at the age of 14 to study in Australia and evaded enlistment for more than six years was yesterday jailed for 1½ months.
This was after an appeal by the prosecution against his original sentence of just a $4,500 fine.
Justice Chan Seng Onn told Brian Joseph Chow that he would have been jailed for three months if not for his exceptional performance during his national service (NS), which he eventually served when he voluntarily returned to Singapore in May 2013.
In sentencing Chow, Justice Chan laid down detailed sentencing guidelines with the help of a graph, ruling that jail time is warranted for those who have a "substantial connection" to Singapore but evade NS by remaining overseas for more than two years. He said such defaulters enjoyed the benefits of citizenship but gained an unfair advantage over their peers.
Factors that influence sentencing include the number of years that the culprit evaded NS, whether he surrendered on his own or was arrested, and whether he pleaded guilty instead of claiming trial. The court would also consider the age at which the defaulter started evading NS and apply a discount if he excelled during his service to the country.
But Justice Chan drew a distinction between those with a "substantial connection" to Singapore and those who left the country at a very young age and had very little connection to it. The latter group are typically fined. But the judge declined to give benchmarks for this category, saying this was not the matter currently before the court.
In the current case, Chow first left to study in Australia in 2005. He had finished his primary and some of his secondary education here but his parents felt the local education system was not equipped to deal with his attention deficit disorder.
When he turned 16½ in 2007, he had to apply for a valid exit permit to remain outside Singapore but did not do so. In January 2008, he was notified to register for NS. After he provided a letter from his school in Australia, the Defence Ministry offered him a deferment for his foundation course - but not for his university studies. It issued follow-up reporting orders.
In March 2009, Chow e-mailed the ministry, asking to defer NS for his university studies. He was told that he had committed an offence and was advised to return to Singapore. In May, he repeated the request and was again rejected.
Four years later, in 2013, two months after he graduated from university, he returned to Singapore.
In January last year, he pleaded guilty to remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit for six years and 27 days. He claimed not to have received the second rejection e-mail - an argument Justice Chan described as "spurious".
Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck argued that a fine was inadequate for defaulters who return only after completing their personal goals and there was a need for a deterrent sentence.
Chow, now training to be a commercial pilot, asked to defer his jail term, but the request was rejected and he started serving the sentence immediately. His father, who declined to be named, said he was "very disappointed" with the decision.