In Singapore, few guys would willingly return to the army after they have completed their two-year National Service (NS).
Joel Sherard Chow, however, is an exception. Barely two years after completing NS, the 22-year-old NUS scholar and law student is back in the army camps on a mission to pursue justice for those who have run afoul of military law.
He is part of the Military Justice Project (MJP) – a group of like-minded law students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) who hope to increase fairness and transparency in the military justice system. Their aim? To provide a fair trial to everyone who has been charged, regardless of rank or circumstance.
“The military prosecutors who are trying your case have 10 to 20 years of legal experience. Meanwhile, the platoon commander, who is defending you, is no real expert in the law,” Joel explained.
Working closely with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the MJP has produced a guidebook to help officers who are novices in the law defend their clients. For more serious cases like drug abuse or Absence Without Official Leave (AWOL), Joel hustles around the clock to connect SAF offenders with trained lawyers who are willing to contribute some of their time and experience for the cause.
“It’s actually not that difficult,” he said with nonchalant modesty. “We can leverage a lot of connections because of the extensive alumni network that we have here in NUS.”
A programme like the MJP may seem a little off the beaten track for your average law undergraduate, but for Joel, a third-generation NUS Law student, nothing comes more naturally than the pursuit of justice.
Determined to carry on his family’s proud tradition of legal service, Joel has thrown himself into law school, and actively participates in extra-curricular activities. In addition to the MJP, he is also the President of the NUS Mooting and Debating Club – a role that is perfect for someone who has been deeply passionate about public speaking and debate since his teenage years.
However, mooting is not all fun and games, Joel hastens to explain. Even for an enthusiastic litigator-to-be like himself, there are many challenges and sleepless nights to endure before you have your moment in “court”.
“Actual mooting is quite fun for me. The difficult part is the preparation. It’s quite stressful because you have to go through thousands of pages of cases,” he said.
It is even more nerve-wracking when you are tasked with defending NUS’ formidable record in both local and international mooting competitions. For the Attorney-General’s Cup, NUS has won five out of the seven editions of the annual competition. It is also the defending champion of the Asia Cup – an international moot held in Tokyo to contribute the establishment of “Rule of Law” in Asia. Joel and his fellow mooters had to fend off challengers from other universities eager to seize the title from NUS.
“We received a lot of help from our professors and seniors. Many of them even stayed back during the nights and weekends to help us practise,” he said.
Through their hard work and support from the faculty, Joel and his team were able to win both of the aforementioned mooting competitions despite stiff competition. At the 2017 Asia Cup, he was selected as Best Oralist by the judges. “I would like to imagine that they were suitably impressed,” said Joel with a laugh.
For someone who is not even halfway through law school, this is already quite a lengthy list of achievements. Joel though, has yet another feather in his cap - he is also a recipient of the NUS Merit Scholarship.
Admitting that it was a “surprise” to have received the scholarship, Joel said: “I applied for it (the scholarship) on impulse. The scholarship is bond-free, the application process is simple, and so I decided to try for it.
“I’m pleasantly surprised to be awarded the scholarship, but also very grateful as well because this will help to defray the cost of my education. I’ve also been able to expand my network through meeting other NUS scholars, while the scholarship will also provide me with many interesting opportunities that I would otherwise not have had.”
Among these opportunities include an overseas exchange in 2018, where he will be able to hone his skills with like-minded students from around the world.
“I’m excited! But I still haven’t made up my mind where to go for my exchange,” said Joel. “For now though, I’m just making friends and networking with my fellow NUS scholars.”
Despite his busy schedule, Joel shows no visible signs of tiring when you speak to him. On the contrary, he is keen to take on even more in his life, and has expressed his interest in learning how to play squash, running marathons and rock-climbing.
A mooting champion, a champion for justice, and a scholar - Joel has already proven beyond all reasonable doubt that he’ll be able to hold court, no matter what he does or where he goes next.