HC Deb 19 December 1916 vol 88 cc1286-7
29. Major HAYWARD

asked the Financial Secretary to the War Office if he will state how many cases have been tried by court-martial in France in the British Army since the commencement of the War; and whether, seeing that owing to the exigencies of the Service courts-martial in France are generally composed almost entirely of regimental officers inexperienced in the administration of justice, even when trying the gravest cases, the Government will take steps to appoint specially for court-martial duty circuits of officers unfit for general service in the field but fully qualified by knowledge and experience to act as members, and thus not only obtain a better and more uniform administration of justice in the Army, but save the enormous amount of time that has to be spent by regimental officers on these duties who can so ill be spared from their battalions?


It is not practicable to give this information. The suggestions which the hon. and gallant Member puts forward have been to a certain extent adopted for nearly two years, inasmuch as specially trained and legally qualified officers are attached to the various commands in France as also in England for the purpose of assisting Courts. Ever since the inception of the first court-martial in the British Army a Court has been composed wholly of regimental officers. I cannot accept the suggestion that they are inexperienced in the administration of justice under a military code. The establishment of a "travelling" Court is opposed to the principle which has obtained in the British Army from time immemorial that if possible one of the members of the Court should be an officer of the unit to which the accused soldier belongs. I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that the court-martial proceedings pass through the hands of many experienced and legally qualified officers before they reach the Judge-Advocate-General, where they are again reviewed, and my Noble Friend the Secretary of State is satisfied that the administration of justice in the Army is carried out with uniformity.


Are we to understand that his Department has no statistics of the courts-martial that have taken place during the War?


We have statistics in every case.