Service personnel win equal legal rights

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The Armed Forces Discipline Bill will give soldiers, sailors and airmen similar legal rights to civilians when they are charged with an offence.

The Armed Forces Discipline Bill will give soldiers, sailors and airmen similar legal rights to civilians when they are charged with an offence.

Independent judicial officers will decide whether those servicemen and women charged with offences are kept in custody before trial - whereas now it is up to their commanding officers to decide.

The Bill will also introduce a right of appeal against a commanding officer's decision on minor offences, known as summary offences, which are not dealt with by court martial.

Under the present system the commanding officer's decision is final but a new Summary Court of Appeal will be set up consisting of a judicial officer and two other service officers.

The Summary Court of Appeal will not have the power to increase sentences.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The Bill forms part of the Government's human rights agenda - committed to fair rights for all.

"The reforms in the Armed Forces Discipline Bill would preserve the essential structure of the current system and bring it into line with the European Convention on Human Rights."

The Bill will not deal with the issue of gays in the military.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has said he will issue a new code of conduct after the recent European judgment that the ban on homosexuals is illegal.

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