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Armed Forces Act 2006

Ships and aircraft
Section 31: Hazarding of ship

97.Causing a naval vessel to be at risk is referred to in the Royal Navy as “hazarding” a ship. In some circumstances, for example when in action against an enemy, it is common for a ship to be put at risk. Taking steps which are bound to damage a ship (by ramming an enemy vessel for instance), or to destroy a ship (to prevent its capture) might in some circumstances be justified.

98.It is an offence under this section for service personnel:

  • to cause a ship to be at risk, with the aim of causing damage to or the stranding of the ship, or causing it to sink, without a lawful excuse, or

  • to cause a ship to be at risk through recklessness or negligence.

99.An offender who intends to hazard a ship, or is reckless, may be sentenced to life imprisonment. An offender who is negligent may only be sentenced up to a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.

Section 32: Giving false air signals etc

100.“Air signals”, as defined in subsection (2) of this section, are of great importance for the guidance of aircraft. A false or inaccurate signal may cause loss of life, and this is reflected in the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for an offence under this section. It is an offence for service personnel:

  • to give a false air signal intentionally, or

  • to intentionally interfere with an air signal or with equipment used for making air signals.

101.A defence of lawful excuse would apply, for example, where a member of the armed forces has authority to correct an air signal or to adjust air signalling equipment.

Section 33: Dangerous flying etc

102.Under this section it is an offence for a member of the Armed Forces to do something when flying or using an aircraft, or in relation to an aircraft or aircraft material, which causes, or is likely to cause, death or injury, if he intends to cause, or is reckless or negligent about causing, death or injury. But he is not guilty of the offence if he acts intentionally, but with lawful excuse (for example, to prevent an aircraft falling into the hands of the enemy). Aircraft material includes parts, accessories and armaments.

103.The section is not limited to service aircraft. It applies, for example, to service personnel who fly a private aircraft, possibly for recreation.

104.The maximum penalty is life imprisonment if the offender intended, or was reckless about, death or injury. The maximum is two years’ imprisonment if he was negligent.

Section 34: Low flying

105.The Defence Council makes regulations governing minimum heights for flying (which vary with the type of aircraft and other factors). Service personnel who breach the regulations commit an offence, whether the breach is intentional, reckless or negligent. The offence does not apply to take-off and landing, and to such other circumstances as the Defence Council may prescribe by regulations. As with section 33, this offence is not limited to flying service aircraft.

106.In some situations, such as training, an individual who is flying an aircraft may be under the command of another person. If the person flying an aircraft breaches a minimum height requirement on the orders of such a person, it is the person in command who commits the offence (subsection (2)).

Section 35: Annoyance by flying

107.This section is intended to prevent flying which is excessively intrusive or otherwise likely to annoy members of the public. It is an offence if service personnel fly an aircraft so as to annoy or be likely to annoy any person, unless they cannot reasonably avoid flying the aircraft in that particular way. The offence is committed regardless of whether the person flying intends to cause annoyance, or is reckless or negligent. As under section 34, if the flying in question is carried out on the orders of a person who is not actually flying, it is the person in command who commits the offence.

108.This offence is not punishable with imprisonment or dismissal with disgrace. The penalties set out in rows 3 to 12 of the table in section 164 may be imposed.

Section 36: Inaccurate certification

109.The services have systems and equipment which require service personnel to check and certify the safety and working condition of service ships and aircraft, or materials used in connection with aircraft. Under this section it is an offence for a person subject to service law to make or sign a certificate without having first checked that it is correct. In addition the Defence Council is empowered by the section to prescribe by regulations other equipment to which the offence will apply.

Section 37: Prize offences by officer in command of ship or aircraft

110.During an armed conflict COs are entitled to capture (as “prize”) most enemy ships and aircraft, and any goods in them. Under International Law they must bring the captured enemy ship, aircraft or goods to an appropriate place for a proper adjudication on whether they were lawfully seized (and can therefore properly be deemed as “prize”). It is an offence if a person in command of a service ship or aircraft unlawfully fails to:

  • ensure that all papers which identify the captured ship or aircraft are sent to a court which can determine whether the ship, aircraft or goods are prize, and

  • bring the ship, aircraft or goods to a convenient place for adjudication.

111.The failure will not be unlawful if caused, for example, by enemy action.

Section 38: Other prize offences

112.It is an offence to ill-treat, or unlawfully take anything from, a person on board a ship or aircraft captured as prize (see paragraph 110 above). It would not be unlawful, for example, to take a weapon from such a person (subsection (1)).

113.Under subsection (2) it is an offence to interfere with goods found on a ship or aircraft taken as prize. This is to ensure that all goods taken as prize reach a prize court. If goods are held by a prize court to have been captured lawfully they may be removed from the ship or aircraft. Goods may also be removed for safe-keeping, and where they are required for necessary use by the armed forces or their allies.

114.A ship or aircraft may be detained either under legislation which authorises detention, or under international law where the UK is a party to an armed conflict. International law permits the detention of foreign ships and aircraft in certain circumstances other than as prize. Under subsection (3) it is an offence to interfere unlawfully with goods on a detained ship or aircraft. Where interference is permitted under international law it will also be lawful under domestic law in the UK.

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