Sunday, November 27, 2016

Is change in the works for Indian military justice?

The Times of India reports that the Defence Ministry has agreed in principle to reforms in the country's military justice system. Excerpt:
This would mean setting up permanent courts to try cases related to military personnel and formulating a common code for all services. There is also a proposal to set up a permanent prosecution department for the forces and introduce a cadre of independent military judges rather than ad hoc juries with members who are not judicially trained.

Decision has been taken after considering the report of the defence minister's committee of experts, which was submitted in November 2015.

The service Acts of the Indian military - the Army Act and the Air Force Act - were enacted in 1950. The Navy Act came in 1957. There has been a standing demand for years to update these laws. On several occasions, the Supreme Court has asked the ministry to show restraint while exercising these archaic laws. Most of the military laws, enacted soon after Independence, are modelled on laws that the British left behind. Experts say under this system, an accused soldier doesn't get the minimum degree of decency and fair play during litigation. Punjab and Haryana high court lawyer [and Global Military Justice Reform contributor] Major Navdeep Singh, who was also a member of the defence minister's expert committee said, "It is a great that the defence minister has accepted our recommendation on military justice reform. The system needs to be recalibrated with changing times and the much cherished constitutional principle of separation of powers."

Mahavir Chakra awardee Brigadier K S Chandpuri (retd) says, "We have been following colonial rules. Then, jawans were recruited on the basis of their fitness. Today's jawan is much more educated and deserves a better judicial system."
What other democracies are critically reviewing their military justice systems right now? U.S. -- check. Canada -- check. Who else? [Please comment, and give your name. No anonymous or pseudonymous comments.]

1 comment:

  1. It is nice to read that the Government would constitute a Committee to bring reforms in the military justice system in India. In 2009, I had made recommendation in my book, “Military Justice System in India: An Analysis”, that the three laws of the Army, Navy and the Air Force be reviewed by an expert committee and a common code be introduced (p. 301-302). Some of the other recommendations were: (i) abolition of the existing multiple court system: i.e. general court martial, summary court martial, summary general court martial, and district court martial and to be replaced by a common court; (ii) duties of convening authority should be divided into two: prosecution branch and administration of courts; (iii) the JAG officer be given role in deciding punishments in a court martial.
    While making presentation to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence on the Armed Forces Tribunal Bill in 2006, I had taken up the issue of common code and the Committee in its Tenth Report (2005-2006) has recommended: “it is high time that these Acts be reviewed in totality by an independent to bring them in tune with the norms followed in other democracies (page 6)”. In response to my petition to Parliament in 2009, for a common code for the armed forces, I was informed in July 2011, that the “time is not yet ripe for amalgamation of all the service Acts in one”. Good, the time has come.
    However, few words of caution:
    (a) The Committee must be headed by a Member of Parliament to ensure that the recommended law is introduced in the Parliament without unnecessary delays.
    (b) In order to have an effective and modern system, the Committee must not be dominated by the serving officers or the officers of JAG branch (Law is made by the Parliament and not by the militaries: militaries are expert in law making).
    (c) The Committee must not function in a closed door environment; it must issue notification and invite suggestions from public.
    Wg Cdr (Dr) U C Jha


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