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Army Legal Services

Services Criminal Justice System

The main elements of the criminal justice system are:

A. The Court Martial

Serious matters, including both offences against the civilian criminal law and specifically military disciplinary offences, may be tried in the Court Martial, which is a standing court. A Judge Advocate arraigns each defendant and conducts the trial which is broadly similar to a civilian Crown Court trial in all cases, even when dealing with a minor disciplinary or criminal offence.

The jury, known as the board, comprises between three and seven commissioned officers or Warrant Officers depending on the seriousness of the case. Having listened to the Judge Advocate's directions on the law and summary of the evidence, they are responsible for finding defendants guilty or not guilty.

Following a finding or plea of guilty, the board joins the Judge Advocate to decide on sentence. The Court Martial has the same sentencing powers in relation to imprisonment as a Crown Court, including life imprisonment. Most of the sentencing powers in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are also available in the Court Martial.

B. Summary Hearings by a Commanding Officer

Minor disciplinary and criminal matters are deal with summarily by the Commanding Officer of the accused. The great majority of matters are disposed of in this way, which forms one of the foundations of the disciplinary system of the armed forces. A Commanding Officer has powers of punishment up to 28 days' detention, which may be extended to 90 days' detention with approval from Higher Authority. In all cases an accused person may elect for trial in the Court Martial rather than appear before their Commanding Officer, or may appeal to the Summary Appeal Court after the event.

C. Summary Appeal Court

The accused, if dissatisfied with the outcome of a summary hearing, always has the right of appeal to the Summary Appeal Court, which is conducted by a Judge Advocate accompanied by two officers. This is modelled on an appeal from a Magistrates' Court to the Crown Court.

D. Court Martial Appeal Court

The avenue of appeal for a convicted defendant, subject to obtaining permission to appeal, is to the Court Martial Appeal Court (as the Court of Appeal Criminal Division is named when dealing with Service cases), and ultimately to the Supreme Court.

E. Service Civilian Court

Civilians who are officials attached to the Services overseas, or dependants of Service personnel resident overseas (for example in Germany or Cyprus) may be tried for minor offences by the Service Civilian Court (which consists of a Judge Advocate sitting alone), or, for more serious matters, may be tried in the Court Martial. This is then usually constituted with an all-civilian board acting as a jury; in such cases the Judge Advocate sentences alone.

F. Custody, Search Warrants and Arrest Warrants

If a serviceman or woman is to be detained in custody, or if private premises need to be searched in the course of investigations, or if a person needs to be arrested, the authority of a Judge Advocate is required. The JAG or one of the judges must be satisfied that the continued detention, or the search or arrest, is legally justified. Such cases are often heard by video link and a judge is on duty every day of the year to rule upon urgent applications if required.

LEXCELAccredited Criminal LitigationAuthorised and Regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, number 439818.