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Court-martial

Court-martial

Overview

A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 subject to military law
Military 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...

, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.

Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of military discipline may have occurred. Some countries, however, have no court-martial in time of peace; this is the case in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, for example, where ordinary, civilian courts are used instead.

In addition, courts-martial may be used to try prisoners of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 for war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

s.
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Encyclopedia

A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 subject to military law
Military 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...

, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.

Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of military discipline may have occurred. Some countries, however, have no court-martial in time of peace; this is the case in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, for example, where ordinary, civilian courts are used instead.

In addition, courts-martial may be used to try prisoners of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 for war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

s. The Geneva Convention requires that POWs who are on trial
Trial (law)
In law, a trial is when parties to a dispute come together to present information in a tribunal, a formal setting with the authority to adjudicate claims or disputes. One form of tribunal is a court...

 for war crimes be subject to the same procedures as would be the holding army
Army
An army An army An army (from Latin arma "arms, weapons" via Old French armée, "armed" (feminine), in the broadest sense, is the land-based military of a nation or state. It may also include other branches of the military such as the air force via means of aviation corps...

's own soldier
Soldier
A soldier is a member of the land component of national armed forces; whereas a soldier hired for service in a foreign army would be termed a mercenary...

s.

Most navies
Navy
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

 have a standard court-martial which convenes whenever a ship is lost; this does not presume that the captain should be suspected of wrongdoing, but merely that the circumstances surrounding the loss of the ship should be made part of the official record. Many ship captains will actually insist on a court-martial in such circumstances.

Composition


Usually, a court-martial takes the form of a trial with a presiding judge, a prosecutor and defensive counsel (all trained lawyers as well as officers) and (in some cases) a panel of officers (and sometimes enlisted personnel) acting as jury. The precise format varies from one country to another and may also depend on the severity of the accusation.

Jurisdiction


Courts martial have the authority to try a wide range of military offences, many of which closely resemble civilian crimes like fraud, theft or perjury. Others, like cowardice, desertion, and insubordination, are purely military crimes. Military offences are defined in the Army Act, Royal Air Force Act and Royal Navy Act for members of the British Military. Regulations for the Canadian Forces
Canadian Forces
The Canadian Forces , officially the Canadian Armed Forces , are the unified armed forces of Canada, as constituted by the National Defence Act, which states: "The Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada and consist of one Service called the Canadian Armed Forces."...

 are found in the Queen's Regulations and Orders
Queen's Regulations and Orders
The Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces are regulations having the force of law for the governance of the Canadian Forces...

 as well as the National Defence Act
National Defence Act
The National Defence Act is the primary enabling legislation for organizing and funding Canada's military....

. For members of the United States armed forces
United States armed forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

 offenses are covered under the Uniform Code of Military Justice
Uniform Code of Military Justice
The Uniform Code of Military Justice , is the foundation of military law in the United States. It is was established by the United States Congress in accordance with the authority given by the United States Constitution in Article I, Section 8, which provides that "The Congress shall have Power . ....

 (UCMJ). These offences, their corresponding punishments and instructions on how to conduct a court-martial, are explained in detail based on each country and/or service.

Canada


In Canada, there is a two-tier military trial system. Summary trials are presided over by superior officers, while more significant matters are heard by courts martial, which are presided over by independent military judges serving under the independent Office of the Chief Military Judge. Appeals are heard by the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada
Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada
The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada hears appeals from military courts .In Canada, courts martial are presided over by independent military judges from the office of the Chief Military Judge...

. Capital punishment in Canada
Capital punishment in Canada
Capital punishment in Canada dates back to 1749. Before Canada eliminated the death penalty for murder on July 14, 1976, 1,481 people were sentenced to death, with 710 executed. Of those executed, 697 were men and 13 were women. The only method used in Canada for capital punishment in nonmilitary...

 was abolished generally in 1976, and for military offences in 1998. Harold Pringle
Harold Pringle
Harold Joseph Pringle was the only soldier of the Canadian Army to be executed during the Second World War for military crimes.Pringle enlisted in the Canadian Army with his father...

 was the last Canadian soldier executed, in 1945, for a military offence.

India


There are four kinds of courts-martial in India. These are the General Court Martial (GCM), District Court Martial (DCM), Summary General Court Martial (SGCM) and Summary Court Martial (SCM). According to the Army Act, army courts can try personnel for all kinds of offences except for murder and rape of a civilian, which are primarily tried by a civilian court of law.

Netherlands


In the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 members of the military are tried by a special military section of the civilian court in Arnhem
Arnhem
Arnhem is a city and municipality, situated in the eastern part of the Netherlands. It is the capital of the province of Gelderland and located near the river Nederrijn as well as near the St. Jansbeek, which was the source of the city's development. Arnhem has 146,095 residents as one of the...

. This section consists of a military member and two civilian judges. The decision whether or not to prosecute is primarily made by the (civilian) attorney general
Attorney General
In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.The term is used to refer to any person...

.

United Kingdom


The Court Martial is one of the Military Courts of the United Kingdom
Military Courts of the United Kingdom
The Military Courts of the United Kingdom are now governed by the Armed Forces Act 2006. The system set up under the Act applies to all three armed services, the Royal Navy , the Army and the Royal Air Force , and replaces the three parallel systems that were previously in existence.The military...

. The Armed Forces Act 2006 establishes the Court Martial as a permanent standing court. Previously courts-martial were convened on an ad hoc basis. The Court Martial may try any offence against service law
Offences against military law in the United Kingdom
The main Offences against military law in the United Kingdom are set out in the Armed Forces Act 2006.The offences fall into two main categories, discipline offences and criminal conduct offences...

. The Court is made up of a Judge Advocate, and between three and seven (depending on the seriousness of the offence) officers and warrant officers. Rulings on matters of law are made by the Judge Advocate alone, whilst decisions on the facts are made by a majority of the members of the court, not including the Judge Advocate, and decisions on sentence by a majority of the court, this time including the Judge Advocate.

United States


Most commonly, courts-martial in the United States
Courts-martial in the United States
Courts-martial in the United States are criminal trials conducted by the U.S. military. Most commonly, courts-martial are convened to try members of the U.S. military for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice , which is the U.S. military's criminal code...

 are convened to try members of the U.S. military for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice
Uniform Code of Military Justice
The Uniform Code of Military Justice , is the foundation of military law in the United States. It is was established by the United States Congress in accordance with the authority given by the United States Constitution in Article I, Section 8, which provides that "The Congress shall have Power . ....

 (or UCMJ), which is the U.S. military's criminal code. However, they can also be convened for other purposes, including military tribunal
Military tribunal
A military tribunal is a kind of military court designed to try members of enemy forces during wartime, operating outside the scope of conventional criminal and civil proceedings. The judges are military officers and fulfill the role of jurors...

s and the enforcement of martial law
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...

 in an occupied territory. Courts-martial are governed by the rules of procedure
Criminal procedure
Criminal procedure refers to the legal process for adjudicating claims that someone has violated criminal law.-Basic rights:Currently, in many countries with a democratic system and the rule of law, criminal procedure puts the burden of proof on the prosecution – that is, it is up to the...

 and evidence
Evidence (law)
The law of evidence encompasses the rules and legal principles that govern the proof of facts in a legal proceeding. These rules determine what evidence can be considered by the trier of fact in reaching its decision and, sometimes, the weight that may be given to that evidence...

 laid out in the Manual for Courts-Martial
Manual for Courts-Martial
The Manual for Courts-Martial is the official guide to the conduct of Courts-martial in the United States military. An Executive Order of the President of the United States, the MCM details and expands on the military law in the Uniform Code of Military Justice...

, which contains the Rules for Courts-Martial, Military Rules of Evidence, and other guidance.

Further reading

  • Macomb, Alexander, Major General
    Commanding General of the United States Army
    Prior to the institution of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army in 1903, there was generally a single senior-most officer in the army. From 1783, he was known simply as the Senior Officer of the United States Army, but in 1821, the title was changed to Commanding General of the United...

     of the United States Army
    United States Army
    The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

    , The Practice of Courts Martial, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841) 154 pages.
  • Macomb, Alexander, A Treatise on Martial Law, and Courts-Martial as Practiced in the United States. (Charleston: J. Hoff, 1809), republished (New York: Lawbook Exchange, June 2007), ISBN 1584777095, ISBN 978-1584777090, 340 pages.

External links