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Detailed guide: The Military Court Service

Ministry Of Defence

November 6
12:36 2020

Message from the Judge Advocate General dated 2 November 2020

New COVID-19 restrictions for England

The Prime Minister announced on 31 October the intention of the Government to introduce regulations that place England back into lockdown. The work of the Service courts will continue to be exempted from these measures, as is the case the case with Civilian and Tribunals. It is vital for the well-being of the country that the administration of justice continues to operate. The legal profession, the parties, board members, witnesses, judges and court staff are all key workers, vital to the continued running of the courts in this proposed period of renewed significant restrictions. Our experience since March has left us much better prepared. The Military Court Service will continue to follow and implement public health advice to reduce risk. Further detailed guidance on how we plan to conduct proceedings as safely as possible in these challenging times can be found in the Protocol on COVID Procedures in the Service Courts.

HHJ Alan LargeJudge Advocate General and the Director of the Military Court Service

Message from the Judge Advocate General dated 5 November 2020

Service courts during second lockdown period

Significantly increased levels of infection across the country have resulted in the government introducing a second lockdown commencing on 5 November 2020. In order to limit the spread of infection and maintain the safety of all court users at the Military Court Centres during this critical period, from Monday 9 November each court centre will operate one court for contested trials. The second court will be available for sentencing hearings. Case management hearings will continue to be held virtually. This measure will be reviewed regularly but is likely to continue until the end of the current lockdown. Thereafter the courts will return to operating both courts.

The Judge Advocate General and the Director of the Military Court Service are very conscious of the impact this decision will have upon everyone involved in the cases affected, including victims, witnesses, defendants and legal representatives. Every effort will be made to reschedule cases as soon as possible.

HHJ Alan LargeJudge Advocate General and the Director of the Military Court Service

Please direct any queries to the following:

Bulford and Catterick Court Procedures during COVID-19

Protocol on COVID procedures in the service courts (PDF, 208KB, 11 pages)

COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocol

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).

Organisation

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.

Procedure

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).

Protocols in the service justice system (SJS)

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