The field court-martial of the Finnish 15th Brigade in July 1944

A court-martial (plural courts-martial, as "martial" is postpositive) is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.

Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of military discipline may have occurred. Some countries, however, have no court-martial in time of peace; this is the case in France and Germany, for example, where ordinary, civilian courts are used instead.[1]

In addition, courts-martial may be used to try prisoners of war for war crimes. The Geneva Convention requires that POWs who are on trial for war crimes be subject to the same procedures as would be the holding army's own soldiers.

Most navies have a standard court-martial which convenes whenever a ship is lost; this does not presume that the captain should be suspected of wrongdoing, but merely that the circumstances surrounding the loss of the ship should be made part of the official record. Many ship captains will actually insist on a court-martial in such circumstances.



Usually, a court-martial takes the form of a trial with a presiding judge, a prosecutor and defensive counsel (all trained lawyers as well as officers) and (in some cases) a panel of officers (and sometimes enlisted personnel) acting as jury. The precise format varies from one country to another and may also depend on the severity of the accusation.


Courts martial have the authority to try a wide range of military offences, many of which closely resemble civilian crimes like fraud, theft or perjury. Others, like cowardice, desertion, and insubordination, are purely military crimes. Military offences are defined in the Army Act, Royal Air Force Act and Royal Navy Act for members of the British Military. Regulations for the Canadian Forces are found in the Queen's Regulations and Orders as well as the National Defence Act. For members of the United States armed forces offenses are covered under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). These offences, their corresponding punishments and instructions on how to conduct a court-martial, are explained in detail based on each country and/or service.

By country


In Canada, there is a two-tier military trial system. Summary trials are presided over by superior officers, while more significant matters are heard by courts martial, which are presided over by independent military judges serving under the independent Office of the Chief Military Judge. Appeals are heard by the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada. Capital punishment in Canada was abolished generally in 1976, and for military offences in 1998. Harold Pringle was the last Canadian soldier executed, in 1945, for a military offence.[2]


There are four kinds of courts-martial in India. These are the General Court Martial (GCM), District Court Martial (DCM), Summary General Court Martial (SGCM) and Summary Court Martial (SCM). According to the Army Act, army courts can try personnel for all kinds of offences except for murder and rape of a civilian, which are primarily tried by a civilian court of law.


In the Netherlands members of the military are tried by a special military section of the civilian court in Arnhem. This section consists of a military member and two civilian judges. The decision whether or not to prosecute is primarily made by the (civilian) attorney general.[3]

United Kingdom

The Court Martial is one of the Military Courts of the United Kingdom. The Armed Forces Act 2006 establishes the Court Martial as a permanent standing court. Previously courts-martial were convened on an ad hoc basis. The Court Martial may try any offence against service law.[4] The Court is made up of a Judge Advocate, and between three and seven (depending on the seriousness of the offence) officers and warrant officers.[5] Rulings on matters of law are made by the Judge Advocate alone, whilst decisions on the facts are made by a majority of the members of the court, not including the Judge Advocate, and decisions on sentence by a majority of the court, this time including the Judge Advocate.[6]

United States

Most commonly, courts-martial in the United States are convened to try members of the U.S. military for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (or UCMJ), which is the U.S. military's criminal code. However, they can also be convened for other purposes, including military tribunals and the enforcement of martial law in an occupied territory. Courts-martial are governed by the rules of procedure and evidence laid out in the Manual for Courts-Martial, which contains the Rules for Courts-Martial, Military Rules of Evidence, and other guidance.

See also


  1. ^ Note about the military justice, French Senat
  2. ^ Clark, Andrew (2008-07-14). "A KEEN SOLDIER: THE EXECUTION OF SECOND WORLD WAR PRIVATE HAROLD PRINGLE". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Retrieved 2010-08-08. 
  3. ^ "Militair strafrecht" (in Dutch), (Hoge Raad der Nederlanden), 
  4. ^ Section 50
  5. ^ Sections 154 to 157
  6. ^ Sections 159 to 160

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • court-martial — n. (1) A military court that hears cases involving members of the armed forces. (2) A trial or proceeding before a military court. v. To try someone in a court martial. pl. courts martial or court martials The Essential Law Dictionary. Sphinx… …   Law dictionary

  • court-martial — [kôrt′mär΄shəl] n. pl. courts martial; for COURT MARTIAL 2, now often court martials 1. a court of personnel in the armed forces for the trial of persons accused of breaking military law: see SUMMARY COURT MARTIAL, SPECIAL COURT MARTIAL, GENERAL… …   English World dictionary

  • court-martial — court martials, court martialling, court martialled (The spellings court martialing and court martialed are used in American English; courts martial is also used as a plural form for the noun.) 1) N VAR A court martial is a trial in a military… …   English dictionary

  • court–martial — court–mar·tial 1 / kōrt ˌmär shəl/ n pl courts–martial also court–martials 1: a court consisting of commissioned officers and in some instances enlisted personnel for the trial of members of the armed forces or others within its jurisdiction 2: a …   Law dictionary

  • court martial — also court martial, 1650s (pl. courts martial), originally martial court (1570s), from COURT (Cf. court) + MARTIAL (Cf. martial). As a verb, from 1859 …   Etymology dictionary

  • court martial — ► NOUN (pl. courts martial or court martials) ▪ a judicial court for trying members of the armed services accused of breaking military law. ► VERB (court martial) (court martialled, court martialling; US court martialed, court martialing) …   English terms dictionary

  • court-martial — court martial1 [ US ˈ. ˌ..] n [U and C] a court that judges soldiers etc who may have broken military law, or an occasion when this judgment is made ▪ Navy commanders recommended that he be tried by court martial. court martial 2 court martial2… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • court-martial — court martial1 noun count a court for trials of members of the military who have broken military laws a. a trial in a military court court martial ,court martial 2 verb transitive to judge someone in a military court a. to decide that someone is… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • court-martial — court′ mar tial [[t]ˈkɔrt, ˈkoʊrt[/t]] n. pl. courts mar•tial, court mar•tials, 1) mil a military court appointed by a commander to try armed forces personnel charged with infractions of military law 2) mil a trial by such a court 3) mil to… …   From formal English to slang

  • Court-martial — Court mar tial, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Court martialed} ( shald); p. pr. & vb. n. {Court martialing}.] To subject to trial by a court martial. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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