Ministry Of Defence
The Military Court Service (MCS) provides a criminal court service for the Royal Navy (RN), Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) in the Court Martial, Summary Appeal Court (SAC) and Service Civilian Court (SCC).
To achieve this, the MCS works closely with the Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Service Prosecuting Authority (equivalent to the Crown Prosecution Service), the Service chains of command, Service and MOD personnel branches, the National Probation Service (NPS), the Victim and Witness Services and military court advocates.
Further information on the Court Martial, SAC and SCC can be found in the Manual of Service Law (JSP 830).
COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocol
Coronavirus update 1 May 2020
Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Judge Advocate General has directed that the Military Courts will suspend all proceedings, except for urgent hearings (for example all matters relating to custody and urgent applications for arrest and search warrants) until at least 18 May 2020. Other high priority proceedings may take place if exceptionally approved by the Judge Advocate General. The Military Court Service will contact directly all participants in those proceedings that need to be relisted. A further direction will be given in due course in relation to hearings scheduled to take place from 18 May April 2020 onwards. In the meantime, all urgent hearings will be conducted remotely by video conference.
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The organisation of the MCS has evolved following the Findlay case heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 1997. British Army and RAF court staffs merged to form the MCS in January 2004, and in 2007 the Royal Navy was integrated to create a tri-service MCS. The Headquarters (HQ) of the MCS is based at Bulford, Wiltshire and carries out all administration relating to the setting up of Court Martial, SAC, SCC and custody proceedings. The MCS is headed by a civil servant (Director MCS), who is supported by a staff of 12 at the HQ.
The MCS is independent of the service chains of command and is staffed by civil servants (some of whom are retired service personnel). Director MCS is also the line manager for the Head of the Armed Forces Criminal Legal Aid Authority, who is responsible for the provision of civilian legal representation for all eligible service personnel and civilians.
In order to ensure his independence, the Director MCS is appointed by the Defence Council as Court Administration Officer (CAO). The CAO has a legislated function to give notice of court proceedings, specify lay members of the court (equivalent to jury selection) and notify witnesses. These duties are conducted in accordance with the Armed Forces Act 2006 and related Statutory Instruments.
HQ MCS lists cases during assize sessions, which are held at the Military Court Centres run by MCS staff. However, a particularly lengthy or complex Court Martial or SAC case may be listed as a stand-alone outside the assize sessions.
Additionally, HQ MCS asks the Judge Advocate General to appoint a Judge Advocate to each case. Then once HQ MCS has notified witnesses and specified the lay members of the court, the detailed administration of the court falls to the relevant Military Court Centre (MCC), where the Court Officer manages the day-to-day running of all cases (including the management of witnesses).
Military Court Centres
There are two permanently manned MCCs in the UK at Bulford and Catterick, with an additional court located in Germany at Sennelager. Including the Court Officers, the MCS employs a further 28 personnel at the MCCs.
The administrative costs of the MCCs are funded by the MCS, but draw on commands/stations within which they are located for administrative support; notably the provision of a Court Usher, the Assistant Court Usher and additional staff to carry out general duties during each assize.
The court system is entirely portable and trials can be held outside of the MCCs; recent examples have included Brunei, Belize, Canada, Cyprus and USA. All such trials are supported by fully trained Court Staff provided from HQ MCS and the MCCs.
Military Court Service Charter
Role: The Military Court Service is to deliver a criminal court service for the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force (the Services).
Aim: To carry out the timely, impartial and efficient administration of Service court proceedings.
Motto: Independent and Impartial
Independence: The Military Court Service is to be entirely independent of:
- The Service Prosecuting Authority
- The Service chains of command
- Those MOD branches responsible for discipline casework
- The Director of the Military Court Service is appointed as the Court Administration Officer by the Defence Council. He/she is accountable to the Service Justice Board and is a permanent member of the Service Justice Executive Group.
- Promotion of modern, fair, effective and efficient administration of the Service Justice System.
- Achievement of best value for money
- Continuous improvement of performance and efficiency across all aspects of the military courts work
- Collaboration with the full range of Service Justice System stakeholders to improve the service provided to all those required to participate in court proceedings
- Creation of greater confidence in, and respect for, the Service Justice System
- Achievement of excellence as an employer