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Armed Forces Act 2001

Section 19: Membership of courts-martial

66.Section 19 introduces Schedule 2.

67.Until now, only officers could sit as lay members (i.e. members apart from the judge advocate) of courts-martial of members of the armed forces (there is provision for civilians to sit as members where the accused is a civilian subject to the SDAs). Following a review of policy, it was decided that eligibility for court-martial membership should be extended, to allow substantive warrant officers (i.e. warrant officers who are not on only temporary promotion to that rank) to sit on the courts-martial of ranks subordinate to them. This was announced by the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces on 17 February 1998 (Commons Hansard Col 556).

68.This change required amendments to the SDAs, and this is the main effect of the Schedule. It adds references to warrant officers where, previously, only officers were mentioned, in the context of court-martial membership. Paragraphs 2, 9 and 16 set out the composition of courts-martial under the amended SDAs. The president of the court will continue to be an officer and, in cases where warrant officers are members of the court, they will not constitute a majority of the lay members.

69.The Schedule also provides that, where a warrant officer is subsequently commissioned, he will still be eligible to be a court-martial member as an officer, but only in trials where he could have sat before being commissioned, i.e. where the accused is below the rank held by the officer before receiving the commission. Like other officers, commissioned warrant officers will require a specified period of commissioned service before being eligible to be members of the generality of courts-martial.

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