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A court-martial or court martial (plural courts-martial or courts martial, as "martial" is a postpositive adjective) is a military court or a trial conducted in such a court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment. In addition, courts-martial may be used to try prisoners of war for war crimes. The Geneva Conventions require that POWs who are on trial for war crimes be subject to the same procedures as would be the holding military's own forces. Finally, courts-martial can be convened for other purposes, such as dealing with violations of martial law, and can involve civilian defendants.
Most navies have a standard court-martial which convenes whenever a ship is lost; this does not presume that the captain is suspected of wrongdoing, but merely that the circumstances surrounding the loss of the ship be made part of the official record. Most military forces maintain a judicial system that tries defendants for breaches of military discipline. Some countries like France have no courts-martial in times of peace and use civilian courts instead.
Court-martial is hyphenated in US usage, whether used as a noun or verb.However, in British usage, a hyphen is used to distinguish between the noun, "court martial", and the verb, "to court-martial".
Usually, a court-martial takes the form of a trial with a presiding judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney (all trained lawyers as well as officers). The precise format varies from one country to another and may also depend on the severity of the accusation.
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 Armed Forces Act 2006 for members of the British Military. Regulations for the Canadian Forces are found in the Queen's Regulations and Orders as well as the National Defence Act. For members of the United States Armed Forces offenses are covered under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). These offences, as well as their corresponding punishments and instructions on how to conduct a court-martial, are explained in detail based on each country and/or service.
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. Capital punishment in Canada was abolished generally in 1976, and for military offences in 1998. Harold Pringle was the last Canadian soldier executed pursuant to a court martial, in 1945, having been convicted of murder.
In Finland, the military has jurisdiction over two types of crimes: those that can be committed only by military personnel and those normal crimes by military persons where both the defendant and the victim are military persons or organizations and the crime has been defined in law as falling under military jurisdiction. The former category includes military offences such as various types of disobedience and absence without leave, while the latter category includes civilian crimes such as murder, assault, theft, fraud and forgery. However, war crimes and sexual crimes are not under military jurisdiction. : § 2
In crimes where the military has jurisdiction, the military conducts the investigation. In non-trivial cases, this is done by the investigative section of Defence Command or by civilian police, but trivial cases are investigated by the defendant's own unit. The civilian police has always the right to take the case from the military. : §§28, 35, 39
If the case does not warrant a punishment greater than a fine or a disciplinary punishment, the punishment is given summarily by the company, battalion or brigade commander, depending on severity of the crime. If the brigade commander feels that the crime warrants a punishment more severe than he can give, he refers the case to the local district attorney who commences prosecution. : §§46–48
The crimes with military jurisdiction are handled by the civilian district court which has a special composition. In military cases, the court consists of a civilian legally trained judge and two military members: an officer and a warrant officer, an NCO or a private soldier. The verdict and the sentence are decided by a majority of votes. However, the court cannot give a more severe sentence than the learned member supports. The appeals can be made as in civilian trials. If a court of appeals handles a military matter, it will have an officer member with at least a major's rank. The Supreme Court of Finland has, in military cases, two general officers as members. : Ch. 3
Courts-martial proper are instituted only during a war, by decree of the government. Such courts-martial have jurisdiction over all crimes committed by military persons. In addition, they may handle criminal cases against civilians in areas where ordinary courts have ceased operation, if the matter is urgent. Such courts-martial have a learned judge as a president and two military members: an officer and an NCO, warrant officer or a private soldier. The verdicts of a war-time court-martial can be appealed to a court of appeals. : Ch. 6
The Basic Law (Grundgesetz) (adopted after the Second World War in 1949) establishes in Art. 96 para. 2that courts-martial can be established by federal law. Such courts-martial would take action in a State of Defense (Verteidigungsfall) or against soldiers abroad or at sea.
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 offenses, except for murder and rape of a civilian, which are primarily tried by a civilian court of law. Higher government authorities do not deal with the military doctrines. The president of India can use his judicial power, (Article 72), to give either pardon, reprieve, respite or remission of punishment or sentence,,, given by a court martial.
In Indonesia, any criminal offense conducted by military personnel will be held in trial by military court. There are four levels of military jurisdiction:
The judges will receive temporary rank the same as the defendant if the rank of the defendant is higher than the judges.
In Luxembourg, there are three levels of military jurisdiction:
In the Netherlands, members of the military are tried by a special military section of the civilian court in Arnhem. 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.
Service members of the New Zealand Defence Force are tried under a court martial for offences pertaining to the most serious offences against the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971. Offences such as mutiny, murder, sexual offences, serious assaults, drug offences, or offences where the maximum punishment exceeds a 7-year prison term will be heard by court martial. Below this 7-year threshold the accused is dealt with by their commanding officer in what is known as a summary trial.
During court martial the appointed judge is either a New Zealand High Court or District Court judge and he or she presides over the trial. Defendants are assigned legal counsel, and for the prosecution, a lawyer is assigned who generally comes from a military background. The judge advocate is usually made up of senior NZDF officers and warrant officers who hear the defence and prosecution evidence during court martial. Punishment on guilty findings of a defendant will see them face being charged with a punishment such as serious reprimand, loss of rank, dismissal from the NZDF, or being sent to military or civilian prison.
Under the Singapore Armed Forces Act,any commissioned officer is allowed to represent servicemen when they are tried for military offences in the military courts. The cases are heard at the Court-Martial Centre at Kranji Camp II. Some of the courts martial in Singapore include that of Capt. G. R. Wadsworth in 1946 due to use of insubordinate language and, in the modern day, misbehaviour by conscripted servicemen.
The governing law in Thailand's military courts is the Military Court Organisation Act 1955 (Thai : พระราชบัญญัติธรรมนูญศาลทหาร พ.ศ. ๒๔๙๘). The act allows the Judge Advocate General of Thailand (Thai : เจ้ากรมพระธรรมนูญ) to establish court regulations. In wartime or during the imposition of martial law, military courts may adopt special procedures.
The court martial is one of the Military Courts of the United Kingdom. The Armed Forces Act 2006 establishes the court martial as a permanent standing court. Previously courts-martial were convened on an ad hoc basis with several traditions, including usage of swords. The court martial may try any offence against service law.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.
Most commonly, courts-martial in the United States are convened to try members of the U.S. military for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which is the U.S. military's criminal code. However, they can also be convened for other purposes, including military tribunals and the enforcement of martial law in an occupied territory. Courts-martial are governed by the rules of procedure and evidence laid out in the Manual for Courts-Martial, which contains the Rules for Courts-Martial, Military Rules of Evidence, and other guidance. There are three types: Special, Summary, and General.
In Herman Melville's novella Billy Budd (first published 1924), the title character is convicted at a drumhead court-martial of striking and killing his superior officer on board HMS Indomitable, is sentenced to death, and is hanged. The novella has been adapted for the stage, film and television; notably in Benjamin Britten's 1951 opera Billy Budd .
In C.S. Forester's 1938 novel Flying Colours , Captain Horatio Hornblower is court-martialed for the loss of HMS Sutherland. He is "most honourably acquitted".
In Michael Morpurgo's novel Private Peaceful , the main character of "Tommo" reflects on the childhoods of himself and his brother, Charlie as Charlie awaits a court martial during WWI, which he receives at the end of the story for disobeying orders and cowardice in the face of the enemy.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Battle it was stated that, as the loss of a starship was a court martial offense, Picard was court-martialed for the loss of the Stargazer, zealously prosecuted by Phillipa Louvois. In the end, he was absolved of all charges.
In jurisprudence, double jeopardy is a procedural defence that prevents an accused person from being tried again on the same charges following an acquittal or conviction and in rare cases prosecutorial and/or judge misconduct in the same jurisdiction. Double jeopardy is a common concept in criminal law. In civil law, a similar concept is that of res judicata. Variation in common law countries is the peremptory plea, which may take the specific forms of autrefois acquit or autrefois convict. These doctrines appear to have originated in ancient Roman law, in the broader principle non bis in idem.
Universal jurisdiction is a legal principle that allows states or international organizations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where the alleged crime was committed, and regardless of the accused's nationality, country of residence, or any other relation to the prosecuting entity. Crimes prosecuted under universal jurisdiction are considered crimes against all, too serious to tolerate jurisdictional arbitrage.
Military justice is the legal system that governs the conduct of the active-duty personnel of the armed forces of a country. In some nation-states, civil law and military law are distinct bodies of law, which respectively govern the conduct of civil society and the conduct of the armed forces; each body of law has specific judicial procedures to enforce the law. Among the legal questions unique to a system of military justice are the practical preservation of good order and discipline, command responsibility, the legality of orders, war-time observation of the code of conduct, and matters of legal precedence concerning civil or military jurisdiction over the civil offenses and the criminal offenses committed by active-duty military personnel.
The courts of England and Wales, supported administratively by His Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, are the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice in England and Wales.
A prosecutor is a legal representative of the prosecution in states with either the common law adversarial system or the civil law inquisitorial system. The prosecution is the legal party responsible for presenting the case in a criminal trial against an individual accused of breaking the law. Typically, the prosecutor represents the state or the government in the case brought against the accused person.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice is the foundation of military law in the United States. It 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....To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces".
The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is an Article I court that exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the United States Armed Forces on active duty and other persons subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The court is composed of five civilian judges appointed for 15-year terms by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. The court reviews decisions from the intermediate appellate courts of the services: the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.
A hybrid offence, dual offence, Crown option offence, dual procedure offence, offence triable either way, or wobbler is one of the special class offences in the common law jurisdictions where the case may be prosecuted either summarily or as indictment. In the United States, an alternative misdemeanor/felony offense lists both county jail and state prison as possible punishment, for example, theft. Similarly, a wobblette is a crime that can be charged either as a misdemeanor or an infraction, for example, violating COVID-19 safety precautions.
The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada (CMAC) hears appeals from Courts-martial of Canada.
Courts-martial of the United States are trials conducted by the U.S. military or by state militaries. Most commonly, courts-martial are convened to try members of the U.S. military for criminal violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which is the U.S. military's criminal code. However, they can also be convened for other purposes, including military tribunals and the enforcement of martial law in an occupied territory. Federal courts-martial are governed by the rules of procedure and evidence laid out in the Manual for Courts-Martial, which contains the Rules for Courts-Martial, Military Rules of Evidence, and other guidance. State courts-martial are governed according to the laws of the state concerned. The American Bar Association has issued a Model State Code of Military Justice, which has influenced the relevant laws and procedures in some states.
In England and Wales, a magistrates' court is a lower court which hears matters relating to summary offences and some triable either-way matters. Some civil law issues are also decided here, notably family proceedings. In 2015, there were roughly 330 magistrates' courts in England and Wales, though the government was considering closing up to 57 of these. The jurisdiction of magistrates' courts and rules governing them are set out in the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.
The judicial system of Turkey is defined by Articles 138 to 160 of the Constitution of Turkey.
The judicial system of Israel consists of secular courts and religious courts. The law courts constitute a separate and independent unit of Israel's Ministry of Justice. The system is headed by the President of the Supreme Court and the Minister of Justice.
A United States military "jury" serves a function similar to an American civilian jury, but with several notable differences. Only a general court-martial or special court-martial includes members. There are no members in a trial by summary court-martial. If the defendant at a general or special court-martial chooses to be tried by members rather than by a military judge alone, the members are responsible for rendering both a verdict and sentence should the accused be found guilty. The charges are brought forward by an officer called a "convening authority", who also selects the members who try the accused. The charges are prosecuted by judge advocates called "trial counsel". Defendants facing general or special courts-martial are represented free of charge from judge advocates acting as defense counsel. Defendants may also be represented at general or special courts-martial by civilian attorneys hired at their own expense. While not required by Congressional law, service policy provides that, at summary courts-martial, many military accused receive representation from a judge advocate defense counsel free of charge.
A private prosecution is a criminal proceeding initiated by an individual private citizen or private organisation instead of by a public prosecutor who represents the state. Private prosecutions are allowed in many jurisdictions under common law, but have become less frequent in modern times as most prosecutions are now handled by professional public prosecutors instead of private individuals who retain barristers.
German military law has a long history.
The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: "[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb..." The four essential protections included are prohibitions against, for the same offense:
The Judiciary of Indonesia constitutionally consists of the Supreme Court of Indonesia, the Constitutional Court of Indonesia, and the lesser court system under the Supreme Court. These lesser courts are categorically subdivided into the public courts, religious courts, state administrative courts, and military courts.
The military courts of the United Kingdom are governed by the Armed Forces Act 2006. The system set up under the Act applies to all three armed services: the Royal Navy (RN), the British Army, and the Royal Air Force (RAF), and replaces the three parallel systems that were previously in existence.
The Judge Advocate General's Corps, also known as JAG or JAG Corps, is the military justice branch or specialty of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy. Officers serving in the JAG Corps are typically called judge advocates.