What is a court martial? Criminal justice in the armed forces.

If you’ve been accused of a criminal offence and are being investigated by the Armed Forces Police or are facing Court Martial the consequences are of huge importance to you.

If you are being investigated by Armed Forces Police

Anyone who is interviewed by the civilian police, SIB (Special Investigation Branch), RMP (Royal Military Police), CJPU (Cyprus Joint Police Unit), RAF Police or Royal Navy Police has the right to be represented by a Solicitor. This right applies even if the interview takes place outside of the UK.

Court Martial Proceedings

It’s important to get the right advice for Court Martial Proceedings. Remember that a Court Martial has the same powers as a civilian court when sentencing someone for a criminal offence.

What happens in a Court Martial?

A Court Martial can take place inside or outside of the UK and the procedure resembles that of the Crown Court. It’s presided over by a civilian Judge, known as the Judge Advocate.

The Service Prosecution Authority will provide evidence of the alleged criminal conduct ahead of any court hearing. If you know you are facing Court Martial it’s best to get advice as soon as possible.

Once the Court Martial proceedings begin a hearing called a PTPH (plea and trial preparation hearing) will be scheduled. At this hearing you will be asked if you plead guilty or not guilty.

If there is to be a trial this will be on another date after the pleas hearing. At the trial the prosecution witnesses will give evidence and the defence has the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses. The defence team will also have the opportunity to put forward their case. This is essentially a criminal trial in a military setting. You need to ensure your lawyers have the necessary courtroom experience and expertise in criminal law.

It will be the “Board” who makes the decision as to whether you are guilty or not guilty. They are essentially the Jury. The Board can consist of 3 or 5 members. The Judge Advocate will guide them on the law but the Board will decide how to treat the evidence and if they find you guilty or not guilty. If there is a finding of guilt, they will sit with the Judge to determine the appropriate sentence.

As in the civilian Courts anyone accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proving guilt lies with the prosecution. Only if the Board is sure of guilt can they convict. If there is doubt, they must return a not guilty verdict.

 Summary Appeal Court and Court Martial Court of Appeal

If you have been convicted or sentenced by your Commanding Officer you have the right to appeal against that finding to a Summary Appeals Court (SAC).

If you have been convicted before a Court Martial but wish for advice to appeal that conviction to the Court Martial Appeal Court we also may be able to assist.


If you are facing Court Martial you can apply for legal aid, which is administered by the Armed Forces Criminal Legal Aid Authority. You might have to make a financial contribution towards your legal aid costs. Alternatively, you can fund the case yourself.


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