Definition of military justice
This article is about legal jurisdiction over military personnel. For military jurisdiction over civilians, see martial law.
Military justice is the body of laws and procedures governing members of the armed forces. Many states have separate and distinct bodies of law that govern the conduct of members of their armed forces. Some states use special judicial and other arrangements to enforce those laws, while others use civilian judicial systems. Legal issues unique to military justice include the preservation of good order and discipline, the legality of orders, and appropriate conduct for members of the military. Some states enable their military justice systems to deal with civil offenses committed by their armed forces in some circumstances.
Military justice is distinct from the imposition of military authority on a civilian population as a substitute for civil authority. This condition is generally termed martial law, and is often declared in times of emergency, war, or civil unrest. Most countries restrict when and in what manner martial law may be declared and enforced.
The United Kingdom's arrangements for justice in the armed forces dates back many centuries to their Articles of War. In the late 19th Century this were added to the annual Army Act and embodied in the Naval Discipline Act. The Air Force Act was added in 1918. In 1966 a process of harmonisation started with the introduction of a quinquennial Armed Forces Act. The Armed Forces Act 2006 replaces the three separate service discipline acts and earlier Armed Forces Acts as the system of law under which the Armed Forces operate. In the previous decade the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had considerable impact on the administration of military justice, particularly the need for the independence of the courts martial system. Nevertheless, the underlying premise of the service justice system is that discipline is a matter for commanders.
The Armed Forces Act 2006 completes the harmonisation of service law, and takes full effect on 1 November 2009. Guidance about its application and related matters are provided in the Manual of Service Law. One motivating factor behind the changes in the legislation combining discipline acts across the armed forces is the trend towards tri-service operations and defence organisations. It deals with military offences, civil offences committed in some circumstances, offences by civilians associated with the armed forces or with the armed forces overseas (including family members), authority of Commanding Officer to deal with offences summarily, the Court Martial, the Service Civilian Court, custody and appeals. The Act also creates the post of the Director of Service Prosecutions.
Summary dealing by a Commanding Officer (CO) is the central feature, this is acceptable within the ECHR because an accused always has the right to elect trial by the Court Martial. Most cases are dealt with summarily. Typically a CO is a Lieutenant Colonel or equivalent (NATO grade OF-4), but a CO may delegate some powers of summary dealing to a subordinate. The superior officer of a CO, a Higher Authority, may vary a CO's powers of summary dealing. An implication is that every person subject to service law must have a CO, and a CO must have a Higher Authority.
The military judicial system is headed by the Judge Advocate General who is a civilian and part of the Ministry of Justice.
Administrative procedures enable a service man or women to be discharged for unsatisfactory behaviour in a process similar to that in the private sector. They also allow a superior of any rank to award up to three extra duties or similar to a subordinate for minor infractions. Since being introduced this has significantly reduced the number of cases dealt with summarily.
The United States Constitution authorized the creation of a system of military justice. Article I, Section 8 permits the U.S. Congress to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." Congress issued these rules first in 1806 as the Articles of War. Military justice during the American Civil War was governed by the 1863 Lieber Code. The Articles of War were super-ceded in 1951 by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
The UCMJ is federal law, found in Title 10 United States Code Chapter 47, and implemented by the Manual for Courts-Martial, an executive order issued by the President of the United States in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces.
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