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Written Answers. - Courts Martial.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 156. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  the percentage of persons tried before courts martial who are represented by practising solicitors or barristers; and the percentage by Army officers. [24297/02]

 157. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  the identity of the confirming authority for sentences and convictions at courts martial; and if, in view of a case (details supplied), his views on whether the current law and procedures conform to the European Convention of Human Rights. [24298/02]

 158. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  the current statistics for trials before the courts martial; the offences involved; the percentage of acquittals; and the penalties imposed. [24299/02]

 159. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  if his power to quash convictions and sentences under section 224 of the Defence Act, 1954, is still exercised. [24300/02]

 160. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  the dates of the last trials before courts martial under military law of persons in respect of offences relating to persons or the property of persons not subject to military law. [24301/02]

 161. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  if there is an appeal against leniency of sentence in a court martial either to the confirming authority or the courts martial appeals court; and if not, if he intends to introduce such an appeal. [24302/02]

 162. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  the procedures governing the appointment and functions of the Judge Advocate General; and the publications in which these can be found. [24303/02]

 163. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  the person who in practice makes the selection of officers to serve on courts martial; and if he has satisfied himself, in view of cases (details supplied) before the European Court of Human Rights, that new law and practice here conforms with the European Convention of Human Rights. [24304/02]

[1028]

 164. Mr. J. Bruton Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  asked the Minister for Defence Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith  the latest statistics on the number and type of offences disposed of summarily by officers of the Defences Forces under the Defence Act, 1954; the penalties imposed; and if he has satisfied himself that the procedures are in accordance with the Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights. [24305/02]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith Zoom on Michael Smith I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 to 164, inclusive, together.

I have been advised by the military authorities that eight persons have been tried by courts martial during the period from 1 January 2002 to 31 October 2002. Three were represented by a solicitor-barrister and five by defending officers. There were no acquittals in these cases. It is expected that the final number of courts martial for 2002 will be 11. The offences charged, under the Defence Acts, in the eight cases tried by court martial in 2002 were as follows:

Offences against Military Law Under the Provisions

of the Defence Act, 1954

Number of Individual Charges Laid
Section 135 Desertion 1
Section 137 Absence without leave 8
Section 141 False accusations against officer or man 1
Section 156 Stealing, embezzlement, etc., of property 1
Section 157 Destruction, loss or improper disposal of property 1
Section 160 Unauthorised use of military vehicles 1
Section 166 Negligent performance of duties 1
Section 167 Offences in relation to documents 5
Section 168 Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline 17
Section 169 Offences punishable by ordinary law 8

The defendants in these eight courts martial in 2002 were awarded the following sentences: two were reprimanded and fined €75; one was severely reprimanded and fined €150; two were awarded 30 days detention; two were awarded discharge from the Defence Forces; and one was awarded 30 days imprisonment, discharge from the Defence Forces and to pay compensation of €950.

Between 1 January, 2002 and 31 October 2002, 789 charge sheets were disposed of summarily by officers of the Defence Forces. Penalties awarded ranged from a maximum of 28 days detention to a minimum of a warning, depending on the severity of the charges. Persons who are subject to military law and who are charged with offences may in certain cases have those charges dealt with summarily by officers of the Defence Forces. In most cases, the accused person has the right to elect to have his-her case dealt with summarily or to be tried by courts martial. The right to a trial by court martial is availed of by the accused in only a small minority of cases.

I am satisfied that the current system of summary disposal of charges by officers of the Defence Forces is fair to the accused. It has not, to date, been the subject of any challenge before the European Court of Human Rights. There were no offences tried by courts martial in 2002 [1029] which related to persons, or to property of persons, not subject to military law. There were two such cases in 2001. In one case, the accused was convicted of assault under section 169 – offences punishable by ordinary law – pursuant to section 3 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act, 1997. In the second case, the accused was convicted of assault under section 169 – offences punishable by ordinary law – pursuant to section 2 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act, 1990.

The confirming authority for sentences and convictions is normally the convening authority and is therefore outside of the chain of command of both the accused and the members of the courts martial. The case referred by the Deputy refers to the administration of military law in the United Kingdom. This particular case, decided by the European Court of Human Rights in February 2002, prompted a review of the Irish military law system. The findings of that military review are currently under consideration by the Office of the Attorney General.

The power of the Minister of Defence to quash convictions and sentences of courts martial, as provided for in section 224, has not been exercised in relation to either the finding or the sentence of a courts martial since the introduction of a right of appeal, against such finding or sentence, to the courts martial appeal court, pursuant to the provisions of the Courts Martial Appeals Act, 1983. The exercise of such powers has been restricted by section 8 of the 1983 Act.

There is no appeal to either the confirming authority or to the courts martial Appeal Court against the leniency of the sentence of a courts martial. However, if an accused appeals to the courts martial Appeal Court, that court has jurisdiction, provided under the provisions of section 18 of the 1983 Act, where it affirms the conviction, to increase, decrease or otherwise vary the sentence, as it deems fit. There are no proposals, at this time, to provide for such an appeal against leniency.

The position of Judge Advocate-General is a civilian position with the Defence Forces. The appointment is provided for under section 15 of the Defence Act, 1954. The Judge Advocate-General must be a practising barrister-at-law of at least ten years' standing, must not be a member of the Defence Forces and is appointed by the President on the nomination of the Government. The Judge Advocate-General is charged with the performance of such duties as the Government may from time to time assign to him-her under the Act. Notification of the appointment of the Judge Advocate-General is published in the Iris Oifigiúil.

In the Defence Forces, it is the responsibility of the convening authority to appoint the members of a courts martial. The cases raised by the Deputy refer to the courts martial system in the United Kingdom. The cases concerned aspects of the administration of military law in the United Kingdom which were not, and are not, [1030] the same as in Ireland. In this country, the convening authority which appoints the members of a court martial has not, for some years, been in the same chain of command as the accused person. Similarly, neither has the convening authority been in a reporting relationship in respect of those constituting the court. Nonetheless, these procedures are being examined under the ongoing military law review.


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