With over 30 years of experience in representing members of the Army and other military personnel, and with 3 of our 4 offices in Salisbury, Amesbury and Andover on the edge of Salisbury Plain, our highly experienced Court Martial Solicitors are ideally situated to assist military personnel with interviews by services or civilian police, representation at Court Martial or at the civilian Courts.
We are specialists in RMP and SIB interviews.
FREE legal advice is usually available for interviews with service police and you are entitled to have a solicitor present at any RMP or SIB interview. And remember – you can choose any lawyer you wish to represent you.
We recommend that you should never be interviewed without an independent Solicitor.
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What is a Court Martial?
Before 2009, a court martial was an ad-hoc system of military courts. The Armed Forces Act 2006, which came into effect in autumn 2009, established the Court Martial in the UK as a permanent military court.
The Court Martial is there to hear general criminal cases in England and Wales committed by members of the military, and cases of breaches of military law. The workings of a Court Martial are similar to the way a Crown Court works, except the jury is known as the Board and the judge is called the Judge Advocate. The Board comprises anything between three and seven military officers, depending on how serious the offence is that they are hearing.
What are the powers of a Court Martial?
The Court Martial has powers which are similar to those of the Crown Court. It can hand down sentences such as fines, prison terms in civilian prisons, detention in a Military Corrective Training Centre, expulsion from the military and a range of other punishments which can be arranged by a Commanding Officer.
Can I appeal against a Court Martial sentence?
Yes, there is a Court Martial Appeal Court which has the job of hearing appeals regarding decisions and sentences made by the Court Martial. Most of the judges working in the appeals systems come from the civilian Court of Appeal. There is also the right to make a further appeal to the Supreme Court, if appropriate.
What sorts of offences can end up in a Court Martial?
The range of offences dealt with in a Court Martial is very wide. The Court Martial deals with offences which can lead to a term of life imprisonment such as misconduct on operations, assisting the enemy, dangerous flying, desertion, failure to suppress a mutiny and giving false air signals. It also deals with offences which carry a shorter term, such as failing to provide a sample to be tested for drugs.
It is often said that Court Martial sentences are harsh, but the sentences have to be considered in terms of both how serious the offences are, the potential threat to national security and the position of responsibility which members of the Armed Forces on active service have.
If something is a criminal offence in England and Wales, a serving member of the military can be brought before the Court Martial and tried for the offence, irrespective of where in the world the incident happened. The sort of offences covered by this can include careless driving, fraud, assault, theft and many more.
Can civilians be covered by military law?
In certain circumstances, such as if a civilian is on board a military aircraft or ship, or if they are working in a support role for an organization such as NAAFI, NATO or SSVC, they are subject to military law. This rule also covers people who are living with members of the military on base, and people working as MOD contractors.
Military Court Martial and Service Offences – the process from start to finish
Service Law has recently changed and the three individual services no longer have separate legislation under which to charge their sailors, soldiers and airmen with an offence. All three services are now subject to the Armed Forces Act 2006, which came into force in October 2009, and which replaced the three separate Service Discipline Acts.
- Police Station Interview.
If you are arrested by the service police in connection with an alleged military offence, you are entitled to the same rights as you would be if you were arrested by the civilian police, and that includes the right to have a solicitor present at your interview. This is irrespective of where you are serving in the world and our solicitors have travelled overseas to attend service police interviews. All service police interviews must be conducted in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
It may be that the service police contact you, via your unit, asking you to attend for an interview. Your rights are exactly the same. You do not have to speak to the service police until you have received proper legal advice.
In either of these situations you should contact an experienced armed forces solicitor who can normally arrange with the service police for your interview to take place at a mutually convenient time.
The decision on whether to charge you with an offence is not the responsibility of the service police. Once the investigation has concluded your case will be referred to the Service Prosecution Authority who will make a recommendation to your Commanding Officer whether enough evidence exists to charge you and if so how the case should be dealt with. The final decision on whether to charge you rests with your Commanding Officer.
- Summary Dealing or Court Martial?
Minor offences will be dealt with by either your Officer Commanding or, if more serious, by your Commanding Officer. The most serious offences are dealt with by Court Martial in a military court. You will not be entitled to legal representations at a Summary Hearing by either your OC or your CO, however you have the absolute right to elect for a trial by Court Martial if you wish to have your case heard in a recognised court of law.
Alternatively, you can proceed with the summary hearing and if you disagree with the outcome you have the right of appeal to the Summary Appeal Court and can appeal against the finding of guilt, the sentence imposed or both.
At a Court Martial or at the Summary Appeal Court you are entitled to legal representation. If you appeal the finding of guilt you will face a full trial at the Summary Appeal Court, just as if your case was referred to, or you had elected for, trial by Court Martial. Our Court Martial solicitors are experienced at defending service personnel at both.
If you are convicted of the offence, the punishments available to the court are very similar to those available to a civilian Crown Court. In addition there are specific military punishments available, such as dismissal from the service, service detention and reduction in rank. Prior to any court case our military lawyers will advise you on the possible punishment you face should you be convicted or if you plead guilty.
Police Interview and Court Martial Solicitors Funding
To have a solicitor present at your service police interview is free of charge, wherever you are serving in the world. The bill for our services is submitted to the Legal Services Commission if your interview takes place in the UK. If you are serving oversees our bill will be paid by the Armed Forces Criminal Legal Aid Authority (AFCLAA). It will not cost you a penny!
If you are to face trial by Court Martial, either by election or referral, you will be entitled to legal aid paid for by AFCLAA. If you lodge an appeal to the Summary Appeal Court, your representation will again be funded by AFCLAA. In both these situations there is a small possibility that you may be asked to contribute to your defence costs. This, however, is quite rare.
Should Legal aid not be available to you and whilst every case is different we give you the option of a fixed fee for most cases – so you know exactly how much you have to pay. We accept debit and credit cards.
This is the most significant and crucial difference between the military Court Martial and the civilian Crown Court. In the case of military personnel, the sentence is decided by the Judge Advocate and the Board. In the case of a civilian being on trial, the Judge Advocate passes sentence alone.
During the sentencing stage at the trial of a military officer, the Board joins the Judge Advocate to hear the final pleas and mitigation and then retires to consider its decision. The Judge Advocate will give the Board guidance as to sentencing and restrictions, much as a judge would do with a jury in a civilian court. In the case of a jury being unable to reach a decision, the Judge Advocate is given the deciding vote.
One major difference is that a military court is able to depart from its usual sentencing practices and conventions and sentence accordingly, known as doing so for ‘service reasons’
Court Martial – Sentences Under Military Law
The range of sentences which can be handed down under military law range from dismissal to a prison life sentence. People in the civilian world are often shocked to discover what sort of offences carry the most severe penalties, as this often doesn’t match up with the sorts of offences which result in life sentences in the civilian law world.
Civilians would consider allowing fuel to overflow while filling up a petrol tank or flying an aircraft in a way which annoys others as not crimes at all, or very petty and minor offences. Under military law, allowing fuel to overflow is a Section 25 offence known as misapplying or wasting public or service property and can be punished with dismissal, as can the flying offence. These offences are treated seriously under military law due to the potential of a dangerous explosion from spilled fuel.
A prison sentence of up to two years is felt to be appropriate under military law for a wide range of offences including:
• Flying under 2000 feet in a fixed wing aircraft or under 500 feet in a helicopter
• Bullying a colleague
• Being unfit for duty because of drugs or alcohol
• Resisting arrest
• Not assisting an officer when asked to do so
• Disclosing information
• Failing to attend for duty
• Disrespectful behaviour to a superior
Up to 10 years in prison can be the sentence for more serious offences against military law, such as putting your colleagues at risk, using violence or threats against a superior, recklessly obeying a command or failure to escape when it was reasonably possible to do so.
Only the most serious military offences result in life imprisonment
Only the most serious offences under military law can result in life imprisonment in a military prison. These offences include:
• Dangerous flying
• Interfering with signals or giving false signals
• Going AWOL (absent without leave) or deserting
• Endangering a ship
• Failing to suppress a mutiny
• Disobeying authority
• Stealing items from injured or dead officers
• Surrendering or abandonment without due cause
• Assisting the enemy
• Providing the enemy with supplies
• Harbouring the enemy
The above offences are considered as extremely serious in the military world, and the punishment will depend on the circumstances of the individual case and the opinions of both the Board and the Judge Advocate.
Remember also that civilians can be prosecuted under military law if they offend when working for the MOD as a contractor or as an employee of other organisations or if they are in certain areas with a partner or friend on military duty. It’s therefore important that the peculiarities of military law and the sentences that certain offences carry are known to everyone, as it’s entirely possible that they could apply to everyone and not just people who are serving members of the Armed Forces.
What to wear in a Court Martial
Courts Martial aren’t massively dissimilar from civilian courts, but there are some important differences and distinctions in which the process differs from that of the civilian Crown Court.
The defendant in a Court Martial usually wears full military uniform but without a belt. Instead of sitting in a dock, as would be the case in a civilian court, the defendant instead sits next to the Defence Counsel — much like many foreign civilian courts. The Judge Advocate wears a wig, bands and a black robe with a sash containing the service colours. Judge Advocates used to be referred to as ‘Sir’, until 2012, when this was changed to ‘Your Honour’.
The alternative to a Jury
Whereas a civilian court will be made up of a civilian jury, usually of twelve people, a Court Martial is made up of a jury known as a Board, which consists of between three and seven members depending on the seriousness of the offence. The Board are all either current or past commissioned officers. The most senior member is known as President of the Board, who effectively acts as the foreman in a Crown Court.
When the Board votes, they do so in reverse (rising) order of superiority, ensuring that no member feels pressured to vote a certain way because of the vote of a superior officer.
Court Martial Solicitors – FREE Initial Phone Advice
Simply call one of our team on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 for FREE Initial Phone Advice
FREE legal advice is also often available for Courts Martial, and may also be available for any offences before the civilian Courts.
We advise service personnel to seek early legal advice with regard to any potential service police investigation and in particular, to have an experienced solicitor who is used to dealing with the Armed Forces present at any police interview. We represent service men and women in cases throughout Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset and further afield – including Courts Martial outside the UK.
We are members of Forces Law – a nationwide group of military law experts, and our solicitors provide legal assistance to members of both Regular and Reserve Forces.
We also offer an exclusive 10% discount to serving military personnel on all our military law services.
As part of our commitment to support the Armed Forces Community, we have signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant – which is a promise that those who serve or have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.