Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces

Last updated
Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces
His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett

since 1 November 2004
First holder James Rant
Website Official website

In the United Kingdom, the Judge Advocate General and Judge Martial of all the Forces is a judge responsible for the court-martial process within the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force. As such the post has existed since 2008; prior to this date the Judge Advocate General's authority related to the Army and the RAF while the Judge Advocate of the Fleet was his equivalent with regard to the Royal Navy. [1]



A Judge Martial is recorded as serving under the Earl of Leicester in the Netherlands in 1587-88. There were Judge Advocates on both sides during the English Civil War and following the Restoration the office of Judge Advocate of the Army (soon to be known as Judge Advocate General) was established on a permanent basis in 1666. [1] Since 1682 the Judge Advocate General has been appointed by letters patent of the sovereign; until 1892 most judge advocates were Members of Parliament, indeed from 1806 the office was a political one, the holder resigning on a change of Government.

After 1892 the role of Judge Advocate General became a judicial rather than a ministerial office; at first it was combined with the President of the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division before being made fully independent in 1905.

The Judge Advocate General has been entitled to appoint deputies since 1682. [1]


The Judge Advocate General is Head of the Service Justice System. [2] The Judge Advocate General is the senior judge advocate and is the overall lead for the jurisdiction (i.e. is not under the authority of the Lord Chief Justice or any other presiding judge). [3]

The Judge Advocate General is assisted by a team of judges who comprise the permanent judiciary, plus a small staff of civil servants. There is a total of seven judges, comprising one Vice-Judge Advocate General, and six Assistant Judge Advocates General, all of whom must be barristers or advocates of seven years standing. As Judge Advocates they preside over all proceedings in the Service courts, which comprise the Court Martial, the Summary Appeal Court, and the Service Civilian Court. The judges control the practice and procedure, give rulings on legal matters, and sum up the evidence for the jury (known as a "Board"). Defendants are entitled to a defending counsel or solicitor, and their unit may provide an Accused's Assisting Officer if they so wish. The Judge Advocate General has all higher authority to all units in the Armed Forces such as Intelligence and combat units.

The Judge Advocate General's office holds cases deposited the originals of all Records of Proceedings, which are kept for at least six years.

Historic role

Historically the Judge Advocate General had responsibility for prosecuting cases as well as for summoning and supervising the court. In 1923 moves were made to separate responsibility for prosecutions from the judicial responsibilities of the Judge Advocate General's office; complete separation was achieved 25 years later with the establishment of the Directorate of Army Legal Services in the War Office (and a parallel Directorate in the Air Ministry).

Changes in the 2000s

In the 1990s significant changes to the courts-martial system were instigated following European Court of Human Rights judgments. The Judge Advocate General was formerly the legal adviser of the Armed Forces, a role that ended in 2000. In both naval and military cases, all proceedings in the Military Courts of the United Kingdom are held under his or her authority (the former office of Judge Advocate of the Fleet having been amalgamated into that of the Judge Advocate General in 2008). Previously the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force had separate court martial arrangements, but all three Services have operated under a single system of service law since November 2009.

The former practice of reviewing the findings and sentences of all trials of the old courts-martial was abolished in October 2009. Now the outcome of each trial in the Court Martial (now a standing court) is final, subject to appeal to the Court Martial Appeal Court. The Judge Advocate General also has power to refer a case to the Court Martial Appeal Court if it gives rise to an important point of law.


The post is regulated by the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951. The appointment is made by the British Sovereign on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. Formerly, the Judge Advocate General had to be a barrister, advocate, or solicitor with higher rights of audience, of 10 years' standing. [4] As of 21 July 2008 the experience needed to qualify was reduced in line with a general move to broaden diversity in the judiciary. [5] [6] An appointee who has practised in England and Wales now has to satisfy the judicial-appointment eligibility condition on a 7-year basis, while a practitioner from Scotland or Northern Ireland will need 7-years' standing as barrister, advocate or solicitor. [7] The post is always held by a civilian rather than a commissioned officer, however an appointee may have previously been a member of the armed forces. [8] In practice the post is held by a Senior Circuit Judge.

The Judge Advocate General can also be appointed from the Vice Judge Advocate General or Assistant Judge Advocates General. [9]

List of Judge Advocates General

Through 1847, the dates are those of actual entrance upon office, not of the appointment, which is usually a few days earlier; or of the patent, commonly some days later than those adopted in this list. After 1847 the dates are those of the Gazette notices of the appointment.

Includes material from: Haydn's Book of Dignities, 12th ed. (1894; reprinted 1969)

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 Roper, Michael (1998). The Records of the War Office and Related Departments, 1660-1964. Kew, Surrey: Public Record Office.
  2. "Military jurisdiction". Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. Judiciary Office. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  3. "Judge Advocate General". Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  4. Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951, s.31
  5. "Increasing Diversity in the Judiciry". Department for Constitutional Affairs. October 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-05. CP 25/04
  6. "Explanatory Notes to Tribunals, Courts And Enforcement Act 2007". Office of Public Service Information. 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-02-21. Retrieved 2008-03-05. paras.281-316
  7. Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, s.50/ Sch.10, Pt.1
  8. "Military". Judiciary of England and Wales. 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
  9. Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951, s.31(d)-(e)
  10. "No. 29828". The London Gazette . 17 November 1916. p. 11156.