Sunday, December 17, 2023

Military justice reform in 2023--a mixed bag

As the holidays approach, a thoughtful if not festive mood has settled in here in the glass-enclosed newsroom high above Global Military Justice Plaza. What kind of year has it been for military justice? There's good news and bad.

Pakistan. After a violent demonstration, the authorities turned, as they have in the past, to military courts to try civilian rioters. That's the bad news. But then a 5-judge Supreme Court bench held it unconstitutional to do so, only to have that ruling suspended by a 6-judge bench of the same court. Last time Pakistan tried to prosecute civilians in military court, the country at least enacted a temporary constitutional amendment. This time, no need.

Uganda and Tunisia continue to prosecute civilians in military courts. A challenge to the practice remains undecided in the Supreme Court of Uganda.

Spain's military justice system has been plagued by unfilled judicial vacancies. 

Here in the United States, the Gillibrand System under which charging decisions for many court-martial offenses will be made by lawyers outside the chain of command is about to go into effect. The Secretary of the Army unfortunately kicked things off by firing the Army's new one-star chief "special trial counsel" for an email he sent 10 years ago when he was a supervisory defense counsel. Talk about an "own goal." After 40 years, Congress got around to affording military personnel the same right to seek discretionary Supreme Court review as is enjoyed by defendants in federal and state courts and even in the Guantánamo military commissions (which continue at their appallingly leisurely pace). The Supreme Court denied review in a case challenging court-martial jurisdiction over retirees, and the Navy issued long-overdue rules concerning the "vessel exception" to the right to refuse nonjudicial punishment.

In Canada, military justice mavens are waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether serving officers can be military judges. Sex offenses by Canadian military personnel are now being handled by civilian authorities. Senior-officer cases dominated Canadian military justice news.

The Commonwealth is working on common military justice principles.

What would you add to the list? What can we look forward to--good or bad--in 2024? (Real names only, please.)

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