HC Deb 22 October 1946 vol 427 cc1459-60
27. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will take steps to ensure that in peace time soldiers accused of offences other than military offences shall be tried by civil courts with the consequent right of appeal.

Mr. Bellenger

The existing law and practice already ensure this to a very large extent. I will, with permission, circulate more detailed information on the point in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the information:

The proviso to Section 41 of the Army Act requires that certain major criminal offences, namely, treason, murder, manslaughter, treason-felony, or rape, if commuted by a soldier, must be tried by a civil court if the offence is committed in in the United Kingdom. If one of these offences is committed by a soldier in peace-time overseas, trial must be by civil court, if there is one competent to try it within a hundred miles.

In the case of other criminal offences committed by soldiers at places within the jurisdiction of a civil court, the civil courts and courts-martial have concurrent jurisdiction.

In this country instructions have already been issued to ensure that such offences, if committed as they usually are, by a soldier when he is not in barracks or on duty, are tried as a rule by the civil courts, especially when the offence affects the person or property of a civilian. The decision as to whether a soldier shall be brought before a civil court rests ordinarily with the chief officer of police and the military authorities are expressly forbidden to make representations to the civil court with a view to the alleged offender being dealt with by a Service tribunal.

The practice overseas is substantially the same, but it must be realised that troops are sometimes stationed in places where there are no civil courts under British judges available to try such offences.

Forward to