HC Deb 18 December 1945 vol 417 cc1276-7W
Mr. Shawcross

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the practice of declaring as deserters soldiers who disappear in a theatre of operations where the circumstances are equally consistent with innocent disappearance; that such postings are made after a court of inquiry at which the soldier's dependants or relatives are not represented; that the records of the proceedings, including the evidence, are thereafter destroyed; and if he will take steps to remedy this procedure, which may cause injustice.

Mr. Lawson

These declarations are made in accordance with the provisions of Section 72 of the Army Act, where the court is satisfied that the soldier absented himself without leave or other sufficient cause. Each individual case is dealt with on the evidence available. Members of the courts of inquiry must be presumed to exercise their functions in accordance with the law, and come to their conclusions accordingly. The actual proceedings of the court of inquiry are not admissible in evidence at any subsequent court martial, and are therefore destroyed after the declaration of the court has been entered in the regimental books in accordance with King's Regulations, 1940, paragraph 1708.

Instructions are now being prepared drawing the attention of presidents and members of courts of inquiry to their responsibilities in these cases and in particular to the fact that if they are of the opinion that the absence may have been due to some sufficient cause, they should record on the proceedings that they are unable to make a declaration, giving the reasons if necessary.