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Up until the middle of the 17th Century, all military discipline within the British Army and Navy was a matter for the Crown. However in 1881 a system was formulated which occurred with the passing of the first Army Act. This gave a fully codified system of military offences and set up the constitution and rules of a Court-Martial system. This system survived more or less in tact until 1955, since that date the Armed Forces have had a complete separate and distinct system of military criminal justice.

If you are a member of the Armed Services, Army, Navy or Air Force whether regular, reserve or territorial or you are a civilian living abroad under the jurisdiction you can if you commit a criminal offence be tried by Court-Martial.

There are three types of Court-Martial. District and General Courts-Martial are held in times of peace but a Field General Court-Martial, which allows exceptions to some of the rules that exist can be held in times of active service.

A District Court-Martial has limited powers of sentence. For example it can only impose imprisonment not exceeding two years. A General Court-Martial has no such limitation.

Both Courts have some of the powers that the Crown Court would have in relation to civilian offences and can impose up to the maximum available sentence for military offences.

Officers must be tried by General Court-Martial. A Warrant Officer can be tried by District Court-Martial but this would limit the Court sentencing powers in relation to him or her. A District Court-Martial has a minimum of three Officers and this is the usual number that sit. A General Court-Martial has a minimum of five Officers, which is the usual constitution. Of course a Court-Martial not only has Officers sitting on a Court Board but also a Judge Advocate. A Judge Advocate will normally be an assistant Judge Advocate from the Office of the Judge Advocate General whose duty it is to supply Judge Advocates for the trial. A Judge Advocate and the Judge Advocate General are Judicial Officers and are full time and are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. A Court-Martial exists only for the trial of a particular defendant or defendants unlike the Crown Court or the Magistrates Court that are permanently constituted. A Court-Martial has to be specifically set up for a specific defendant. Generally speaking lawyers from the service that is seeking to prosecute the defendant carry out the prosecution at a Court-Martial. For example if the defendant happens to be a soldier then Officers from the Army Prosecution Authority that are part of the Army Legal Services prosecute him.

The Royal Air Force has its own Prosecuting Authority, as does the Navy.

An accused man may be represented by a lawyer of their choice.

Forces Law specialise in having a panel of lawyers that are extremely experienced at defending soldiers, sailors and airmen all over the world at Courts-Martial.

There is an extensive Legal Aid Scheme, which operates to assist the Service Personnel who are to be tried by Court-Martial, and the Army, the Air Force and the Navy administer this.

It is very important to understand that the funding for Courts-Martial is almost exactly the same as the funding for the Magistrates and Crown Court and the instruction of a lawyer gives the Serviceman or woman independent legal advice.

All members of the Forces Law Courts-Martial panel are independent lawyers and are not employed or retained by the Ministry Of Defence but are solicitors in private practice who specialise in providing skilled advice and assistance.

The procedure at a trial is governed totally by the Courts-Martial Rules. There is a set of rules for the Army and a set of rules for the Air Force. The Navy of course have their own distinct and separate rules and regulations for their Courts-Martial.

Prior of course to any criminal trial taking place there will always be a police investigation.

At a police investigation by the Service Police or by the Ministry of Defence Police a detained person has an absolute right to free and independent legal advice.

Again Forces Law provides such free and independent Legal Advice with a team of lawyers who are skilled in military police station work.

At any time of the day or night anywhere in the world if you feel that you need advice on a military criminal matter then you can telephone Forces Law or contact them via the Web Site and you will be put in touch with a lawyer who understands that system and speaks your language.


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