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The main Offences against military law in the United Kingdom are set out in the Armed Forces Act 2006.[1]

The offences fall into two main categories, discipline offences and criminal conduct offences. A second distinction is between those offences that can be dealt with by a Commanding Officer in a summary hearing, and those that can only be heard by the Court Martial.

Discipline offencesEdit

Discipline offences are those offences that can only be committed by members of the armed forces or, in a few cases, by a civilian subject to service discipline.

The table below lists the principal discipline offences, and indicates for each offence:

  • whether it can be committed by a civilian subject to military discipline as well as a service person
  • whether a commanding officer can deal with the offence at a summary hearing[2] (though if the offender is a civilian subject to service discipline, it must be heard by the Service Civilian Court
  • the maximum sentence available to a Court Martial trying the offence. The maximum punishment that a Commanding Officer hearing a charge summarily can impose is generally 28 days in service detention, or up to 90 days with the authority of a Major General or equivalent.[3]
Sec[4] Offence Definition, example or notes[5] Civilian? Summary
Hearing?
Max. sentence at Court Martial
1 Assisting an enemy
  • Communicating without authority with an enemy
  • Giving an enemy information that would or might be useful to him
  • Providing an enemy with supplies
  • Harbouring or protecting an enemy
  • Serving with enemy forces or participating in propaganda having been taken prisoner
No No Life imprisonment
2 Misconduct on operations
  • Surrendering or abandoning a place or thing to the enemy without reasonable excuse
  • When in action or in the vicinity of the enemy:
    • failing to use utmost exertions to carry out lawful orders
    • sleeping on duty, or leaving his post
    • spreading alarm or despondency within the ranks
No No Life imprisonment
3 Obstructing operations
  • Putting at risk, with intent or recklessness, the success of an action
  • Delaying or discouraging, without lawful excuse, an action
No No If in action with the enemy, life imprisonment. Otherwise, 10 years' imprisonment
4 Looting
  • Taking property, without lawful excuse, from a person killed, injured or captured in operations
  • Searching such a person with intent to take property
  • Taking, or searching a place for, property left exposed as a result of action
Yes No Life imprisonment
4 Looting
  • Taking a vehicle, equipment or stores abandoned by the enemy, unless for the public service
Yes Yes Seven years' imprisonment
5 Failing to escape
  • Failing to escape when there are reasonable steps that could be taken to escape
  • Preventing or discouraging, without lawful excuse, another from escaping
No No 10 years' imprisonment
6 Mutiny
  • Attempting to overthrow or resist lawful authority
  • Disobeying lawful authority in order to subvert discipline
  • Conspiring to do the above
No No Life imprisonment
7 Failing to suppress mutiny Failing to prevent or suppress a mutiny he knows is occurring or is intended No No Life imprisonment
8 Desertion
  • Being absent without leave with the intention to remain so permanently
No No Two years' imprisonment
8 Desertion
  • Being absent without leave to avoid active service
No No Life imprisonment
9 Absence without leave
  • Intentionally or negligently being absent without leave
  • Recklessly doing an act that causes him to be absent without leave
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
10 Failing to apprehend deserters or absentees Knowing that another is a deserter or absent without leave, failing to take reasonable steps to apprehend them No Yes Two years' imprisonment
11 Misconduct towards a superior officer
  • Using violence against a superior officer
  • Threatening behaviour or communication to a superior officer
No Yes 10 years' imprisonment
11 Misconduct towards a superior officer
  • Disrespectful behaviour or communication to a superior officer
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
12 Disobeying lawful commands Intentionally or recklessly disobeying a lawful command No Yes 10 years' imprisonment
13 Contravening standing orders Contravening a standing order he should be aware of Yes Yes Two years' imprisonment
14 Using force against a sentry
  • Using force against a sentry
  • By threat of force, compelling a sentry to let him or another pass
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
15 Failing to attend for, or perform, duty
  • Without lawful excuse:
    • failing to attend for duty
    • leaving a duty early
    • failing to perform a duty
  • Performing a duty negligently
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
16 Malingering
  • Pretending to have an injury or disease, or aggravating or prolonging an injury or disease, to avoid service
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
16 Malingering
  • Causing himself an injury, or causing another to injure him, to avoid service
  • Injuring another, or aggravating or prolonging the injury of another, to help him to avoid service
No No Two years' imprisonment
17 Disclosing information useful to an enemy Disclosing information known or believed to be useful to an enemy, without lawful authority No Yes Two years' imprisonment
18 Making false records
  • Making a false official record
  • Tampering with or suppressing an official document with intent to deceive
  • Failing to make an official record he has a duty to make, with intent to deceive
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
19 Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline
  • e.g., Wearing a rank he is not entitled to
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
20 Unfitness or misconduct through alcohol or drugs Due to the influence of alcohol or any intoxicant (unless given on medical advice or the orders of a superior officer)
  • being unfit to be entrusted with a duty
  • behaving in a disorderly manner
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
21 Fighting or threatening behaviour
  • Fighting another reasonable lawful excuse
  • Intentionally using threatening, abusive, insulting, or provocative behaviour likely to cause a disturbance
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
22 Ill-treating subordinates Bullying, humiliating, degrading or using unnecessarily harsh behaviour against a subordinate No Yes Two years' imprisonment
23 Disgraceful conduct of a cruel or indecent kind Note: an act of a sexual nature that occurs in private between consenting adults is not generally regarded as indecent No Yes Two years' imprisonment
24 Damage to, or loss of, public property Intentionally, without lawful excuse, or recklessly damaging or causing the loss of public or military property, or properly belonging to another service person No Yes 10 years' imprisonment
24 Damage to, or loss of, public or service property
  • Negligently damaging or causing the loss of public or service property
  • Recklessly or negligently doing something likely to cause damage to, or the loss of, public or military property
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
25 Misapplying or wasting public or service property
  • e.g. Allowing fuel to overflow a tank
No Yes Dismissal with disgrace
27 Obstructing or failing to assist a service policeman
  • Obstructing a service policeman or provost officer
  • Failing, when called upon, to assist a service policeman or provost officer
Yes Yes Two years' imprisonment
28 Resisting arrest
  • Disobeying, using violence against or threatening a person ordering him into arrest
No Yes Two years' imprisonment
28 Resisting arrest
  • Using violence against, or threatening, a person arresting him
Yes Yes Two years' imprisonment
29 Service custody offences
  • Escaping from lawful custody
  • Using violence against, or threatening, a person having lawful custody
Yes Yes Two years' imprisonment
30 Allowing escape or unlawful release of prisoners
  • Intentionally or reckless allowing a prisoner to escape
  • Knowingly releasing a prisoner without authority

Note: prisoner can be a service person, prisoner of war or other detainee

No Yes With intent or knowledge: ten years' imprisonment. Otherwise, two years' imprisonment
31 Hazarding a ship
  • Intentionally, without lawful excuse, or recklessly damaging, stranding or causing the loss of a military ship
No No Life imprisonment
31 Hazarding a ship
  • Negligently hazarding a military ship
No No Two years' imprisonment
32 Giving false air signals
  • Giving a false signal to aircraft
  • Interfering with signals for aircraft
No No Life imprisonment
33 Dangerous flying
  • Intentionally, without lawful excuse, or recklessly doing an act when flying, or in relation to, an aircraft that may or does cause injury or loss of life
No No Life imprisonment
33 Dangerous flying
  • Negligently doing an act when flying, or in relation to, an aircraft that may or does cause injury or loss of life
No No Two years' imprisonment
34 Low flying Intentionally, recklessly or negligently flying below 2,000 feet (610 m) (fixed wing aircraft) or 500 feet (152 m) (helicopters) No Yes Two years' imprisonment
35 Annoyance by flying Flying an aircraft so as to annoy any person No Yes Dismissal with disgrace
36 Inaccurate certification Making or signing an inaccurate certificate relating to a ship, aircraft or specified equipment No Yes Two years' imprisonment
37 - 38 Prize offences Having captured a ship or aircraft:
  • failing to send the ship's or aircraft's papers to a prize court
  • failing to bring the ship or aircraft (or cargo) to a port or airfield for adjudication by a prize court
  • ill-treating a person on board
  • unlawfully taking property from a person on board
  • interfering with the cargo (unless for service use)
No No Two years' imprisonment
305 Failing to provide a sample for drug testing Relates to testing for illegal drugs No Yes 51 weeks' imprisonment
306 Failing to provide a sample for alcohol or drug testing Relates to testing for alcohol or illegal drugs after a serious incident Yes Yes 51 weeks' imprisonment

Criminal conduct offencesEdit

The military offence of criminal conduct covers anything done anywhere in the world that, if done in England and Wales, would be against the civilian criminal law.[6]

A Commanding Officer can deal with some criminal conduct offences committed by a service person at a summary hearing, including:[7]

Some more serious offences can be dealt with summarily with the permission of a major general or equivalent:[8]

  • assault causing actual bodily harm
  • possession of an offensive weapon in a public place
  • fraud
  • dishonestly obtaining services

Criminal conduct offences committed by a civilian subject to service discipline are dealt with by the Service Civilian Court if they could be tried by a Magistrates' Court in England and Wales.

More serious offences, whether committed by a service person or a civilian subject to service discipline, must be tried by the Court Martial.

The maximum punishment that can be imposed for criminal conduct is the same as could be imposed by the appropriate civilian court, the Magistrates' Court for minor offences, or the Crown Court for serious (indictable) offences.

PunishmentsEdit

The punishments that can be imposed on a convicted service person are:[9]

  • imprisonment (in a civilian prison). Offenders are automatically dismissed with disgrace.
  • dismissal with disgrace
  • dismissal
  • detention in a military facility for two years or less (not officers). Offenders sentenced to detention are also automatically reduced in rank to an ordinary soldier, sailor or airman, and forfeit their pay for the period they are in detention.
  • forfeiture of seniority (officers only)
  • demotion by one rank (warrant officers or non-commissioned officers only)
  • fine of up to 28 days' pay
  • service community order (only used in conjunction with dismissal, with or without disgrace)
  • reprimand or severe reprimand (officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers only). This will have an effect on future career prospects.
  • service supervision and punishment order (ordinary soldiers, sailors, airmen only). This order, which may be in place for up to 90 days, includes forfeiture of one-sixth of pay and loss of leave, and may also include additional duties, and being prevented from using some facilities (e.g. leisure facilities).
  • minor punishments:
    • loss of leave (non-commissioned officers and ordinary soldiers etc. only)
    • restriction of privileges (ordinary soldiers etc. only). This requires the offender to perform additional duties each day for up to 14 days.
    • admonition (ordinary soldiers etc. only). This is recorded on the offenders' service record.
  • service compensation order. Requires the payment of compensation for personal injury or damage to property. Amounts of likely compensation payable range from £50 for a graze or severe bruise, to £3,000 for a fractured limb.
  • Being placed on the Violent and Sex Offender Register for any period, including life.

A civilian convicted by a military court may be sentenced to one of the following punishments:[10]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Text of the Offences against military law in the United Kingdom as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
  2. Section 53 and Schedule 2 of the Armed Forces Act 2006
  3. Sections 132 to 139, and section 173 of the Armed Forces Act 2006
  4. Section of the Armed Forces Act 2006
  5. Definitions taken from the Act, examples or notes from the Manual of Service Law, Volume 1, Joint Service Publication (JSP) 830, Edition 1.0, 2009, Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
  6. Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006
  7. See Text of Schedule 1, Part 1, of the Armed Forces Act 2006 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
  8. See Text of Schedule 1, Part 2 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
  9. Section 164 of the Act, additional information from the Manual of Service Law, Chapter 13
  10. Schedule 3 of the Act

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