HC Deb 07 December 1995 vol 268 cc344-5W
Mr. Clifton-Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are his proposals for the reform of the court martial system. [5077]

Mr. Soames

We have undertaken a review of the court martial system as part of our preparations for the Armed Forces Bill which was introduced recently.

As a result, we are including in the Bill proposals to reform aspects of the court martial system, while enabling it to continue to meet the armed forces' requirement to administer discipline firmly but fairly. I am today putting a note setting out the detail of these proposals in the Library, and copies will be available in the Vote Office. The main features of the changes are as follows: there will be changes in the formal part played in court martial proceedings by the military chain of command. Its functions, such as settling charges, responsibility for the prosecution and appointing court martial members, will remain in the services but generally be independent of the chain of command; there will be an enhancement of the part played at court martial by the judge advocate, who is similar in many ways to a judge in a civilian court; the right for defendants to choose to have their cases tried by court martial, rather than dealt with summarily by the commanding officer, will be extended; access to the courts martial appeal court, which is composed of senior civilian judges, will be extended, to enable it to hear appeals against sentence as well as against conviction.

This last proposal is already included in the Armed Forces Bill. Amendments to the Bill to address the other proposals which require legislation will be tabled shortly.

The court martial system has served the services very well over the years. We believe that the proposals represent a major improvement to the present system and will enable it to continue to fulfil its purpose for a long time to come.

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