The most serious military law offences in the UK

In uk military law, the sentences that can be imposed can vary wildly from dismissal from active service to life imprisonment. It can be surprising to the civilian population just which offences carry the harshest sentences, as it often does not necessarily reflect what might be considered to be a serious offence in the civilian world.

For example, allowing fuel to overflow when filling a petrol tank is considered to be misapplying or wasting public or service property, a section 25 offence which carries a maximum sentence of dismissal with disgrace. The same punishment can be given to an officer who flies an aircraft in a manner which annoys someone else. These may seem like small, petty crimes to the civilian population — or perhaps not even crimes at all — but are seen as very serious in the Armed Forces – largely because of the significant danger of explosion that overflowing petrol can cause.

Up to two years’ imprisonment can be given for a number of offences, including intentionally flying below 2,000 feet in a fixed-wing aircraft or 500 feet in a helicopter, resisting arrest, obstructing or failing to assist an officer when requested bullying a colleague or being unfit through alcohol or drugs. The sentence also applies to disclosure of information, failing to attend duty or perform a duty and disrespectful behaviour to a superior officer.

Ten years’ imprisonment can be given for putting colleagues at risk, failing to escape or preventing others from escaping when it was reasonably possible, using violence against or threatening a superior officer or recklessly obeying a command. The most serious sentence which can be given by a military court is that of life imprisonment, which is applicable to quite a surprising number of offences.

Military offences – what can lead to life imprisonment?

Life imprisonment in a military prison can be the sentence that results from dangerous flying, giving false air signals to aircraft or interfering with the signals, recklessly hazarding a ship, being absent without leave (desertion), failing to suppress a mutiny with prior knowledge, attempting mutiny or disobeying lawful authority, taking property from killed or injured officers, surrendering or abandonment without reasonable excuse and assisting an enemy. Even providing an enemy with supplies or harbouring or protecting them can result in life imprisonment, and all of the above are viewed very seriously in the military world and the resultant punishment will depend on the extenuating circumstances and the views of the Judge Advocate and the Board.

It is also worth remembering that civilians are liable to be prosecuted under military law should they be working as an MOD contractor or for any one of a number of other organisations, are on military grounds or are in a designated area with a spouse or acquaintance who is on active military duty. It is for this reason that it is important that the nuances of military law and its applicable sentences are known to all, as it is reasonably possible that they could apply to anyone — not just active service personnel.

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