Like their civil counterparts, courts-martial were legal bodies that are convened to determine the guilt or innocence of accused men and women. A panel of officers sat in judgement at a court martial, while the accused was represented by an officer who may have been a military lawyer. Courts-martial had the authority to try a wide range of military offences, many of which closely resembled civilian crimes like fraud, theft or perjury. Others, like desertion and cowardice were purely military crimes. Punishments for military offences ranged from fines and imprisonment to execution. Military offences were defined in the British Army Act. These offences, their corresponding punishments and instructions on how to run a court martial, were explained in detail in the Manual of Military Law.

millawMilitary offences were identified by 'AA' for Army Act, followed by a number indicating the specific section of the Act under which the service person was charged. The list below summarises some of these sections.

Offences in Respect of Military Service
Section 4 covered the most serious military crimes, including deserting one's post, convincing a superior officer to surrender, throwing away one's arms in the presence of the enemy, assisting the enemy, corresponding with the enemy, or showing cowardice in the face of the enemy.

Section 5 covered disobeying orders, failing to rejoin His Majesty's Forces after being released from an enemy prisoner of war camp, and spreading rumours that might cause fear and alarm amongst the troops.

Section 6 covered a wide range of crimes including plundering, leaving one's post without orders, physically attacking another soldier, stealing from civilians; revealing secret passwords, being drunk at one's posts and making false alarms about attacks.

Mutiny and Insubordination 

millaw7Section 7 covered leading and taking part in a mutiny, and refusing to report soldiers who were planning to mutiny.

Section 8 covered striking or threatening a superior officer.

Section 9 covered disobeying lawful orders from a superior officer.

Section 10 covered resisting arrest.

Section 11 covered refusing to obey a general order.

 

Desertion, Fraudulent Enlistment, and Absence Without Leave millaw12

Section 12 covered deserting or encouraging others to desert while on active service.

Section 13 covered fraudulently enlisting in the forces, for example by lying about one's age.

Section 14 covered assisting a person to desert, and failing to report a person whom one knew intended to desert.

Section 15 covered being absent without leave.

Section 16 covered "behaving in a scandalous manner, unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman."

Section 17 covered the fraudulent use of public or regimental funds.

Section 18 covered "malingering", pretending to be ill or deliberately injuring yourself.

Section 19 covered drunkenness.

Offences in Relation to Persons in Custody

Section 20 covered officers and men who had been given the task of guarding prisoners. Such men could be charged for releasing a prisoner without the proper authority; or allowing a prisoner to escape.

Section 21 covered unnecessarily detaining someone without bringing his or her case to the proper authorities for investigation or trial.

Section 22 covered attempting to escape from custody.

Offences in Relation to Property

Section 23 covered fraudulently selling government property or extracting exorbitant prices for goods and services.

Section 24 covered selling, pawning, losing, or destroying arms, equipment, decorations and other public property as well as "ill-treating a horse used in the public service."

Offences in Relation to Property

Section 23 covered fraudulently selling government property or extracting exorbitant prices for goods and services.

Section 24 covered selling, pawning, losing, or destroying arms, equipment, decorations and other public property as well as "ill-treating a horse used in the public service."

Offences in Relation to False Documents and Statements

Section 25 covered knowingly altering or making false statements on official documents.

Section 26 covered falsely filling out documents or refusing to complete reports relating to arms, ammunition and equipment.

Section 27 covered making false statements about the character of another officer or soldier and making false statements about one's own military career.

Offences in Relation to Courts-Martial

Section 28 covered making false statements or refusing to answer questions on the witness stand, refusing to take an oath in court, refusing to produce documents when asked to do so by the court, and insulting or disrupting the court.

Section 29 covered knowingly giving false evidence in court.

Offences in relation to Billeting

Section 30 covered "billeting", the practice of soldiers' lodging in private homes while on active service. Service men and women could be charged for mistreating, threatening or refusing to pay householders for billeting troops.

Offences in relation to Impressment of Carriages

Section 31 covered offences that occurred when service men forced civilians to hand over their horses and carriages without proper compensation.

Offences in Relation to Enlistment

Section 32 covered re-enlisting in the forces without declaring that one had been previously discharged in disgrace.

Section 33 covered making false statements on an attestation paper.

Section 34 covered helping a person to enlist fraudulently.

Miscellaneous Military Offences millaw35

Section 36 covered disclosing the location of forces, bases or operations to the enemy.

Section 37 stated that officers could be charged for striking or ill-treating soldiers, while both soldiers and officers could be charged for refusing to repay advances on their pay.

Section 36 covered disclosing the location of forces, bases or operations to the enemy.

Section 37 stated that officers could be charged for striking or ill-treating soldiers, while both soldiers and officers could be charged for refusing to repay advances on their pay.

Section 38 covered fighting, or assisting in a duel, and attempting to commit suicide. millaw38

Section 39 covered refusing to help the civil authorities take custody of a service person who was accused of a crime.

Section 40 coved acting "to the prejudice of good order and military discipline."

Section 41 stated that courts martial could try soldiers for treason, murder, rape, manslaughter and a number of other civil offences when they occurred more than one hundred miles away from the nearest civilian court.

Section 155 covered selling a promotion in His Majesty's Forces.

Courts-Martial Records

Records of individual courts martial consist of an average of twenty to twenty-five documents, the majority of which are standardised forms. These records document charges under the Army Act and the trial itself. With respect to the trial, these records identify the officers who sat in judgement, and evidence presented to the court, including statements by the accused and witnesses. In cases of conviction, courts martial records document the sentences handed down. Many courts martial records include formal rulings about the legal proceedings by the Judge Advocate General, who is the senior officer responsible for overseeing military justice.

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