18 April, 2009


In Trouble with the Service?

service men and women in uniformThe Naval Discipline Act (NDA) covers many of the same areas as civilian law but it also deals with discipline and Service employment, placing the serving person under an obligation to obey legal orders. This means that Service personnel must go on deployment, return from leave and go on duty when they are ordered to do so. If serving personnel disobey the NDA they can be punished by the RN/RM. This can mean a fine or imprisonment, just as in civilian law.

If you do get into trouble with the Service you will always be provided with full written information regarding the charges you face, your legal rights and the support available.

Overseas you and your children will be subject to the laws of the country in which you are living. Partly for your protection, you and your children will also become subject to some of the provisions of the NDA so that the RN/RM may deal with cases rather than the local civilian court.

You may only be allowed to live in certain foreign countries because you are a dependant of a Service person.

When overseas you should check particularly on the laws and regulations covering:

  • Duty Free Goods
  • Traffic regulations, particularly liability to third party claims arising out of accidents, so that you may consider appropriate insurance cover.

decorated officer

What does being trooped mean?
Being "trooped" is a slang term meaning to attend a summary trial for an alleged offence. This will usually be conducted by the Executive Officer (XO) for minor offences, or the Commanding officer (CO) for offences of a more serious nature. This type of trial is similar to that conducted in a Magistrate's Court. If the alleged offence is of the most serious kind, the trial may be conducted by Courts Martial, which are similar to Crown Courts.

At Summary Trial, the CO or XO can award certain punishments to the accused person. These may include a fine, stoppage of leave, or extra work and drill outside of the working day. The result of the trial will appear on a charge sheet, which will remain with the offender's conduct record for a set time period. For most Naval offences, this is 5 years.

Certain punishments will also result in Administrative Action. For example a Career Check (CC) will be awarded for any warrant punishment given by an authority higher than the CO. This may have an effect on subsequent promotion, transfer to another branch, award of Long Service, Good Conduct Medal or Good Conduct Badges.

Commanding Officer

Summary Trial or Court-Martial?
The Commanding Officer will consider the reported evidence and will decide to try the case himself or refer the case for Court Martial. Where the CO is prepared to try the case himself and the charges could result in the punishment of dismissal from the Service / detention / disrating, the accused rating has the right to elect for trial by Court Martial.

Officers have the right to elect for trial by Court Martial in every case, but in cases where the possible punishment is no greater than severe reprimand / reprimand / fine or stoppages not exceeding 14 days pay the Officer may be given the opportunity to be dealt with summarily.

In the cases where the trial option applies, you will have at least 24 hours in which to make your decision. If you elect for Court Martial, but later change your mind and want a summary trial, you can submit a request any stage up to the Court Martial.

Summary Trial... a few useful facts
When you are dealt with by summary trial you may either defend yourself or request the assistance of any Officer in your ship or establishment who is available. This person is known as the Accused's Friend, and for ratings it would normally be the Divisional Officer or equivalent - but you may ask for someone else. You will be asked whether you plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty there will be a trial. Should you be found guilty (either because you pleaded guilty or because the case was found to be proved) your CO will decide on punishment.

In the case of ratings if the punishment is beyond the CO's powers to award without approval, he will apply to a senior officer for a Punishment Warrant, which will be read out when it is returned. Punishment will generally be given immediate effect. The only exception is detention. Detention will normally start on the fifteenth day after the sentence is announced so you may consider an appeal.

barbed wire

Can I appeal from Summary Trial?
You have the right to appeal to the Summary Appeal Court (SAC) against the finding of your CO or the punishment awarded. The SAC comprises a Judge Advocate and two Naval Officers who are independent of your CO and outside the ship's chain of command. You should seek advice on whether to appeal. You may wish to discuss the matter with your Divisional Officer, his/her equivalent and/or a lawyer.

If you decide to appeal you have 14 days from the date your sentence was awarded in which to complete the Notice of Appeal (Form 1 - available from the UPO/Ship's Office) and submit it to your CO. The punishment awarded by your CO will normally continue to take effect regardless of the application to appeal. The exception is detention. Where your sentence includes detention, this part of the sentence will be suspended until the appeal hearing. All sentences awarded to officers will take immediate effect.

The Naval Prosecuting Authority (NPA) receives all the papers relating to your appeal and will decide either to contest or accept your case. If the case goes to a hearing the NPA will appoint a Naval Barrister to respond to your appeal and you have the right to be legally represented at the SAC. You may change your mind and abandon your appeal, wholly or in part, at any time before it is heard.

If you do not accept the decision of the SCA there are certain circumstances in which you are entitled to appeal to the civilian High Court. It is important that you seek legal advice before considering this course.

judicial scales

Courts Martial. How, why and wherefore!
Some offences are considered so serious that the Commanding Officer and/or the Naval Legal Authority will refer the case for trial by Court Martial. Serving people facing Summary Trial can also opt for their case to be heard by a Court Martial. At all stages the alleged offender will be offered support, advice and provided with assistance in obtaining the appropriate legal representation.

If you are to be tried by Court Martial your CO will advise you when you will be handed the following papers:

  • A copy of the charge sheet.
  • A list of the witnesses that the prosecutor proposes to call and copies of their statements.
  • A list of exhibits to be used in evidence.
  • A list of witnesses' statements and other material that the prosecution does not intend to rely on.
  • A list of your previous convictions - civilian and Service and those of the prosecution witnesses.
  • A copy of your Service certificate.

You will be provided with a list of Naval Barristers (Accused's Friend) but may opt to seek a civilian solicitor or barrister to represent you. A point worth noting is that the Navy will pay for the costs of using a Naval Barrister but the employment of civilian legal support will incur cost to the accused and some people will need to apply for legal aid to help with the expense.

The court is comprised of a civilian Judge Advocate and five Officers as court members. If you hold the rate of Chief Petty Officer or below, one of the court members may be a Warrant Officer. The court is a public court and your family may attend if they wish. You do not have to tell your family, but if you are under the age of 18 your CO will inform your parents or legal guardian that you are to be tried by Court Martial and the nature of the charge(s) against you. If you do opt not to tell your family it is important to remember that the press have the right to attend and may publish a report on your case.

Courts Martial are usually held in HMS Drake or HMS Nelson.

Pre-Sentence ReportFor serious offences that could bring about a sentence of dismissal, disrating and/or detention a Pre-Sentence Report will be requested. This PSR is normally written by a specially trained Naval Personal and Family Service qualified social worker. The purpose of the PSR is to assist the Court in understanding the background and the realistic impact of the sentencing options on the Serving Person. The Naval Courts Administration Office will request that NPFS compiles the PSR. NPFS contacts the accused person to ensure that he/she is receiving legal advice and to suggest that the worker and accused meet to discuss the report.

There is no requirement for you to work with NPFS; this is simply a matter of personal choice and in all cases people are strongly encouraged to talk to their solicitors regarding participation.

The Trial...On completion of the Prosecution and Defence cases the Judge Advocate will sum up the evidence including the salient points of the case and the Court will retire to consider its verdict. If you are found guilty of one or more charges, the Court will announce its decision and then, following any further Defence submissions, retire again to consider sentence, taking into account the PSR and any other relevant reports.

The Court will also take into account the following when considering sentencing options:

  • Seriousness of the charge in the light of the surrounding circumstances.
  • Whether or not you pleaded guilty, and at what stage.
  • Service and disciplinary record.
  • Any mitigation made.
  • Likely financial impact on you (and your family if appropriate) of any sentence.
  • Any other relevant factors.

If you are found not guilty of all charges, you will be free to go once the formalities of closing the court are complete.

Can I appeal following a Court Martial?
You may petition the Admiralty Board in respect of the finding and the sentence of the Court Martial, applying for leave to appeal to the Court Martial Appeal Court. It is important that you seek legal advice before appealing.

In addition the conduct of all Courts Martial trials resulting in conviction, together with the finding and sentence awarded, are subject to review by the Admiralty Board. You will be notified of the result of the review.

Sentence of Detention

Should you be sentenced to a period of detention your time will be spent at the Military Corrective Training Centre (M.C.T.C.) Colchester.

The principal function of the M.C.T.C. is to detain personnel, both male and female, of the three Services and civilians subject to the Services Disciplinary Acts, in accordance with the provisions of the Imprisonment and Detention (Army) Rules 1979. The M.C.T.C. is an establishment that provides corrective training for those servicemen and women sentenced to periods of detention; it is not a prison.

The MCTC takes servicemen and women who have been sentenced to periods of detention from 14 days to 2 years. There are 3 categories of detainees:

• Those from the RN, RM, British Army and RAF who are to remain in the Services after sentence and will serve their detention in A Company.

• Those from the RN, RM, British Army and RAF who are to be discharged after their sentence and will serve their detention in D Company.

• Those held in Military custody either awaiting the outcome of an investigation, or awaiting HM Prison or YOI placement.

For further information applicable to detainees and visitors please go to.

website Web SiteMCTC

For more information
All the information included above is presented here in shortened form, a lot of additional detail is contained in the following:

  • "RN Form S268 - RIGHTS of ACCUSED PERSONS", from your Unit Personnel Office.
  • "Guidance Notes For The Accused - Trial By Court Martial", from Naval Courts Administration Office, Barham Block, HMS NELSON, Portsmouth.
  • "Giving Evidence At A Naval Court", from Naval Courts Administration Office, Barham Block, HMS NELSON, Portsmouth.

Important Note

In accordance with JSP 754 Chapter 3 Section 13 Article 03.1305(c) if you are sentenced to a period of detention your pay will be suspended from the day that the sentence commences.  You are strongly advised to contact your Unit Personnel Office for further information.


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