Military Law

Military law is all legal structures that govern military personnel. Topics covered by military cover service members’ conduct while in training or on active duty, protections of military spouses, and service members’ re-entry into civil society when their tours of duty are over.

Military personnel who return from their tour of duty must return to civilian life, and the transition can be somewhat tricky.

Common Terms

  • Dishonourable Discharge: One of the most severe punishments the military can impose, a dishonourable discharge means that a service member left the military due to misconduct.
  • Court-Martial: The proceeding which adjudicates military law.
  • Non-Judicial Punishment: Punishments a service member’s commanding officer may impose in her discretion, including confinement, extra duties, demotion, and reprimands.

Related Practice Areas

  • International Law: Many military operations occur overseas, and soldiers may, at times, run afoul of international laws.
  • Criminal Law: Service members commit war crimes. Additionally, some punishable offences are criminal.
  • Employment Law: Military personnel are employees of the Ministry of Defence. Additionally, military personnel are entitled to special protections when returning to civil life.

Most lawyers who practise military law are part of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) system. The Judge Advocate General (JAG) is the most senior Judge Advocate and the Judicial head of the Service Courts. This is an entirely standalone role meaning that the JAG is not supervised by any other Judge and he does not come under the authority of any Presiding Judge nor the Lord Chief Justice. The Service Justice System as a whole comes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.

The best-known part of the Service Justice System (SJS) is the Court Martial. This is a standing court (equivalent to the Crown Court) created by the Armed Forces Act 2006 which hears criminal and disciplinary trials of Servicemen and women in the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, and civilians subject to Service discipline, for serious offences (or where the defendant chooses not to be dealt with by the Commanding Officer).

The Judicial Office Holders who sit in the Court Martial are called Judge Advocates. Judge Advocates preside in all cases in the courts operating within the SJS, not just the Court Martial. Judge Advocates also preside over the Summary Appeal Court (equivalent to a Circuit Judge hearing appeals from the Magistrates’ Court), and the Service Civilian Court (a special court to hear cases overseas involving civilians who are subject to Service discipline).

court-martial 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 Convention requires that POWs who are on trial for war crimes be subject to the same procedures as would be the holding military’s forces. Finally, courts-martial can be convened for other purposes, such as dealing with violations of martial law, and can involve civilian defendants.

Graham Blower regularly acts in court-martial hearings.

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