Courts-martial system reformed after human rights criticisms

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The Independent Online

Soldiers, sailors and airmen accused of wrongdoing are tried under the armed forces disciplinary codes. Only very serious cases are dealt with in the courts.

Soldiers, sailors and airmen accused of wrongdoing are tried under the armed forces disciplinary codes. Only very serious cases are dealt with in the courts.

Complaints are normally investigated by the Royal Military Police, who report findings and recommendations to the relevant commanding officer. Misconduct that can be dealt with at divisional or equivalent level is settled under the powers granted to the commanding officer. Where a serious case must be answered, a file is passed to the Army Prosecuting Authority, the military's equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service, which considers any appropriate charges to be tried under the terms of a court martial.

A court martial case is heard by either a legally qualified judge advocate sitting with two senior officers or a judge advocate and a panel of up to eight officers or senior NCOs. Like a Crown Court jury, the panel returns a guilty or not guilty verdict and the sentence is determined by the judge. The armed forces have recently reformed the courts-martial system after a succession of rulings in the European Court of Human Rights which criticised the constitution of the court. One complaint was that junior army personnel who sat on the tribunal were open to outside pressure from senior officers.

Since then, the role of "prosecutory and adjudicatory" functions at courts martial have been separated, and the courtroom roles of some serving officers at such trials have been abolished.