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Detailed guide: The Military Court Service

Ministry Of Defence

January 18
16:34 2021

Bulford and Catterick Court Procedures during COVID-19

Introduction

During the current lockdown restrictions, all sentencing hearings including those after trial will be held with all participants including Board Members attending via video link, unless it is necessary in the interests of justice for participants to attend in person.

A copy of this Practice Direction should be sent to Board Members before the hearing, together with the Guide for Court Members and any other relevant documentation.

This Practice Direction takes effect immediately.

Before the hearings - documents

Documents for the hearing must be sent electronically to the MCS at least 2 working days before the hearing, including:

  • charge sheet
  • items which will be referred to during the case; for example photos, plans
  • information for Service courts
  • pre-sentence report
  • basis of plea
  • reports and references.

These will be collated into one email and sent by MCS to the Board Members at the outset of the hearing, when directed by the Judge Advocate.

The court hearing - administrative and practical arrangements

The following matters must be considered:

  • the Court Officer will send all participants a link to join the hearing online.
  • dress Service personnel including Board Members should wear Service Dress. Advocates should be robed.
  • oath/affirmation Board Members wishing to take the oath on a holy book should have a copy to hand during the hearing. Board members may also take the solemn affirmation without a holy book. The words of the oath or affirmation should be sent to the Board member in advance and available at the hearing.
  • during the hearing Board members must be alone, in a place which has good internetconnectivity, which is quiet and free from distractions, and where they will not beinterrupted or overheard. No-one else, including family members/work colleagues/petsshould enter the place during the hearing. A Board member is permitted to leave their home to locate to a place where they can comply with the foregoing.
  • when deciding where they will be located during the hearing, Board members should bear in mind that they are part of the formal court process, and select their location accordingly in order best to preserve the dignity of the court. By way of guidance, sitting at a table in the living room is acceptable, but sitting on a bed in a bedroom or on a bench in the garage or garden shed is not.
  • the location of the Board member in their room must be such that they are clearly visible at all times on the link sitting with a window behind you is not advisable.
  • pen and paper for taking notes should be available.
  • a glass/bottle of water may be used during the hearing. Tea/coffee/soft drinks are not acceptable during the hearing but may be consumed during informal discussions before the hearing and during deliberations.
  • Board members may have their mobile phone in the room, but it must be switched to silent. They must not use it for any purpose unless directed by the Judge Advocate.
  • Board members should use a laptop to join the hearing. Tablets may also be used. Mobile phones are not acceptable. The hearing must not be recorded.
  • Board members should have their laptop/tablet video on, but their microphones muted unless directed by the Judge Advocate.
  • if Board members need to leave the room for any reason, they must inform the Judge Advocate.
  • if Board members are unable to hear or follow any part of the proceedings they MUST alert the Judge Advocate immediately, either by unmuting their microphone and addressing the judge or using the chat facility or attracting the Judge Advocates attention in any other way. If Board members do not raise an issue with the Judge Advocate, it will be assumed that they have heard every part of the case.
  • Board members should not navigate to any other webpage during the hearing unless specifically instructed by the Judge Advocate.

The court hearing - procedure

The Court Officer will admit the Judge Advocate and Board Members into the hearing an hour before it is due to start. The Court Officer will then withdraw from the hearing, leaving the Judge Advocate and Board Members to have discussions in private. The Judge Advocate will introduce themself and make any introductory remarks, either general or about the forthcoming case. The Judge Advocate will then direct the Court Officer to send the Board Members any advance reading material, including the material set out at 2.1 above and invite the Board members to read it. Thereafter, until the hearing begins, unless the Judge Advocate wishes to discuss issues with them, the Board Members should use the opportunity to get to know each other over the video link, without discussing the case, and the Judge Advocate may withdraw.

When the hearing commences, the Court Officer will bring the Judge Advocate into the hearing all other participants except the Board Members will already be present in the hearing, having joined by video link as instructed by the Court Officer. The Judge Advocate will deal with any preliminary matters in the absence of the Board and then direct that the Board Members be brought into the hearing by the Court Officer.

The Judge Advocate will identify all participants, check that they can see, hear and be seen and heard, confirm that the defendant has no objection to any of the Board members, and no objection to the case being conducted remotely. The Board members will then be sworn in all should remain seated.

The Judge Advocate will then give the appropriate directions to the Board members, modified as required for remote hearings. Board Members may ask questions by contacting the Judge Advocate directly using the chat facility or, with leave of the Judge Advocate, by unmuting their microphone and asking the question on the link.

The hearing will proceed in the usual way. Once complete, the Court Officer will ensure that the Judge Advocate and Board Members are able to deliberate over the video link in private. When deliberations are complete, the Judge Advocate will send a message to the Court Officer to reopen the Court and the Court Officer will re-admit the participants, Judge Advocate and then the Board Members.

The Judge Advocate will deliver sentencing remarks, and the President of the Board will be invited to unmute their microphone and deliver the sentence.

After the court hearing

The Court Officer will again arrange for the Judge Advocate and Board members to be able to speak in private. The Judge Advocate will deal with any final matters with the Board Members before inviting them to leave the hearing.

Board members must then delete any emails and documents concerning the case from their email accounts and laptops.

The completed Form TRN1 (which records the sentence passed) will be checked and signed electronically by the Judge Advocate, who will then email it to the Court Officer. It will then be emailed by the Court Officer to the President for electronic signature and return to the Court Officer. If an electronic pen is not available, by typing their name and date in the signature block, the Judge Advocate and President are entering valid signatures.

The Judge Advocate will deal with any other forms which are required, depending on thesentence passed, and email them to the Court Officer.

Public access

The public and press will be able to view proceedings from a court room in the court centre. It may be necessary to limit the number of people the public gallery in order to preserve social distancing or comply with Health and Safety directives.

Message from the Judge Advocate General dated 11 January 2021

Introduction

The Lord Chief Justice has made it clear that courts and tribunals should continue to operate during the current phase of the pandemic, implementing such measures as necessary to ensure the safety of court staff and users. Accordingly, the Service Courts will continue to operate, but at a reduced level. Attendance at court as a witness, defendant, advocate, board member or assisting officer is exempt from the lockdown restrictions, and anyone who is required to come to court should do so.If an individual wishes to raise concerns about attending court, they should in the first instance contact the party who has asked them to come to court. Further guidance is available in protocols issued earlier during the pandemic, which are available on the website of the Military Court Service

I have reviewed the procedures for operating the Service Courts during the current lockdown. This document should be read in conjunction with previous protocols issued during the pandemic. The following additional measures should be implemented for all cases in the Service Justice System from 11 January 2021. Some of them may appear to be over-prescriptive, but they are designed to protect the safety of everyone in the court building and thus help to limit the spread of the virus. A young private soldier may not find it easy to ask their advocate or assisting officer to preserve social distanc

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