Military Court Martial and Service Offences - the process from start to finish

Service Law has recently changed and the three individual services no longer have separate legislation under which to charge their sailors, soldiers and airmen with an offence. All three services are now subject to the Armed Forces Act 2006, which came into force in October 2009, and which replaced the three separate Service Discipline Acts.

Police Station Interview.

If you are arrested by the service police in connection with an alleged military offence, you are entitled to the same rights as you would be if you were arrested by the civilian police, and that includes the right to have a solicitor present at your interview. This is irrespective of where you are serving in the world and our lawyers have travelled overseas to attend service police interviews. All service police interviews must be conducted in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

It may be that the service police contact you, via your unit, asking you to attend for an interview. Your rights are exactly the same. You do not have to speak to the service police until you have received proper legal advice.

In either of these situations you should contact an experienced armed forces solicitor who can normally arrange with the service police for your interview to take place at a mutually convenient time.


The decision on whether to charge you with an offence is not the responsibility of the service police. Once the investigation has concluded your case will be referred to the Service Prosecution Authority who will make a recommendation to your Commanding Officer whether enough evidence exists to charge you and if so how the case should be dealt with. The final decision on whether to charge you rests with your Commanding Officer.

Summary Dealing or Court Martial?

Minor offences will be dealt with by either your Officer Commanding or, if more serious, by your Commanding Officer. The most serious offences are dealt with by Court Martial in a military court. You will not be entitled to legal representations at a Summary Hearing by either your OC or your CO, however you have the absolute right to elect for a trial by Court Martial if you wish to have your case heard in a recognised court of law.

Alternatively, you can proceed with the summary hearing and if you disagree with the outcome you have the right of appeal to the Summary Appeal Court and can appeal against the finding of guilt, the sentence imposed or both.

At a Court Martial or at the Summary Appeal Court you are entitled to legal representation. If you appeal the finding of guilt you will face a full trial at the Summary Appeal Court, just as if your case was referred to, or you had elected for, trial by Court Martial. Our lawyers are experienced at defending service personnel at both.


If you are convicted of the offence, the punishments available to the court are very similar to those available to a civilian Crown Court. In addition there are specific military punishments available, such as dismissal from the service, service detention and reduction in rank. Prior to any court case our military lawyers will advise you on the possible punishment you face should you be convicted or if you plead guilty.


To have a solicitor present at your service police interview is free of charge, wherever you are serving in the world. The bill for our services is submitted to the Legal Services Commission if your interview takes place in the UK. If you are serving oversees our bill will be paid by the Armed Forces Criminal Legal Aid Authority (AFCLAA). It will not cost you a penny!

If you are to face trial by Court Martial, either by election or referral, you will be entitled to legal aid paid for by AFCLAA. If you lodge an appeal to the Summary Appeal Court, your representation will again be funded by AFCLAA. In both these situations there is a small possibility that you may be asked to contribute to your defence costs. This, however, is quite rare.

Should Legal aid not be available to you and whilst every case is different we give you the option of a fixed fee for most cases – so you know exactly how much you have to pay. We accept debit and credit cards.

Military court-martial or service offence – contact us today

To instruct us, or for more information about how we can help

  • call 01980 622992 OR
  • e-mail our team using the contact form below

Comments or questions are welcome.

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