Monday, December 19, 2016

Global Military Justice Reform in 2016: the big stories

As 2016 draws to a close, what have been the major stories in global military justice reform? Some possibilities:
  • Significant amendments to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, resulting from the work of the Military Justice Review Group. Downsides: no public hearings of any kind on Capitol Hill; no improvements in GI access to the U.S. Supreme Court; no transfer of charging power from commanders to lawyers independent of the chain of command
  • Initiation of a comprehensive review of Canadian military justice. Downside: the government is not promising it will all become public (possible invocation of attorney-client privilege)
  • Referral of the case of Sgt. Alexander Blackman of the Royal Marines back to the Court Martial Appeal Court. Downside: second-guessing the work of the British judicial system
  • Continued use of military courts to try civilians in Pakistan, Egypt, Uganda. Downside: where to begin?
  • The UN studies peacekeeper discipline, largely driven by events in the Central African Republic. Downsides: a serious "case of the slows"; tension between UN-NY and UN-Geneva
  • Reform embraced in principle in India. Downside: not much sense of urgency for a top-to-bottom review of the military justice system, including creation of a modern, independent military judiciary and lawyer-driven charging
  • Important details still to be painted in in the Colombia-FARC peace agreement. Downside: if the specifics are not broadly acceptable, potential deal-breaker
What would you add to or remove from the list? Developments in Mexico? Chile? Elsewhere? Comments are invited (but you must use your real name).


  1. A stealth development in 2016 is what is happening to Chinese military law generally, with this topic of greater importance now that the PLA is more active outside of China and is taking a more forceful stance vis a vis the US as well as its neighbors. However Chinese military law has attracted little or no attention.

    1. Susan -- we'll be counting on you to keep us as informed as possible on Chinese developments. Many thanks!

  2. I would make a nuance about the Canadian military justice system. The comprehensive review pertains to courts martial only (which represents about 5% of the disciplinary proceedings). The remaining service offences are dealt with by summary trials, which are not covered by the review. As there was a legislative initiative covering summary trials in a previous Parliament (Bill C-71, June 15, 2015) it could be inferred that policy development is done already. That probably explains why summary trials are out from the current comprehensive review. But in my opinion, it should be part of the review too as it raises constitutional concerns as it pertains to service members' rights. In addition, summary trials must be included as it is likely to be instrumental to mission success in dealing with sexual misconducts in the CAF. Like the 'broken window' concept, dealing with objectively minor sexual misconducts at the lowest level at the earliest reasonable opportunity, is likely to reduce the number of sexual assaults.

    As for the risk that input from the review be part of the solicitor-client privilege, it is then up to us, scholars in military law to share our views in public fora - such as this - in a candid, collegial and confident fashion. Unless some of us have provided an external legal advice - which would be covered by the solicitor-client privilege - there is no ownership nor secrecy on ideas developed by a bunch of lawyers discussing in public format.


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