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Mr. Ingram: Court martial procedures are kept under review. We are considering whether any changes will be required when the three service discipline Acts are replaced by a single piece of discipline legislation covering all the services. We are also assessing what modifications may be necessary as a result of the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Morris v. the United Kingdom. Any changes will reflect the need for service discipline to underpin operational effectiveness.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many cases were brought before courts martial in each of HM armed services in the most recent year for which figures are available; if he will break down these cases by (a) the nature of charges brought and (b) verdicts delivered; and what estimate he has made of cases which could feasibly have been considered by a civilian court. 
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Royal Navy (inc. Royal Marines)
53 court-martial trials involving 56 accused persons facing 114 alleged offences.
39 of the accused were convicted on one or more charges.
16 were acquitted of all charges brought against them.
The trial of one individual saw the court dissolved and the case returned for summary dealing.
The types of charges involved were:
29 cases of theft
23 cases of assault
11 cases of actual bodily harm
9 cases of falsification of documents
9 cases of drunkenness
6 cases of dishonestly obtaining
5 cases of conduct prejudicial
4 cases of disobedience to standing orders
4 cases of absence without leave
3 cases of indecent assault
2 cases of fighting
2 cases of possession of drugs
2 cases of damage to property
2 cases of negligent performance of duty
1 case of disobedience to lawful commands
1 case of sexual harassment
1 case of sleeping on watch.
409 court-martial trials involving 455 accused persons facing 980 alleged offences.
373 of the accused were convicted on 817 offences.
82 were acquitted on 163 offences.
The type of charges involved were:
192 cases concerned with forms of violent crime
100 cases of absence without leave and/or desertion
66 cases of theft
34 cases concerned with forms of sexual crime
18 cases of drunkenness and/or driving under the influence of alcohol
7 cases of drugs possession
4 cases of drugs supply
3 cases of criminal damage
31 cases involving a range of offences.
Note: The Army record only the most serious of the alleged offences faced by an individual at a court martial trial. Therefore the breakdown of types of charges totals only 455, i.e. one charge per defendant.
Royal Air Force
62 court-martial trials involving 81 accused persons facing 102 alleged offences.
45 of the accused were convicted on 62 offences.
21 were acquitted on 23 offences.
15 individuals had their trials, concerning 17 offences, discontinued.
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Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what research has been commissioned to look at alternative arrangements, compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998, for military discipline; and what estimate he has made of the limitations there are on the use of criminal courts. 
Mr. Ingram: The arrangements for administering discipline in the armed forces are kept under review, including with a view to their remaining compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Changes are made where necessary, to reflect the requirements of the Convention and also to keep in step with appropriate developments in the civilian justice system.
This flexible approach to service discipline procedures is considered to be preferable to greater use of the civilian criminal courts. Generally, civilian courts are less likely that service courts to process a full appreciation of the importance of discipline to the operational effectiveness of the armed forces and of the possibility that an offence committed in a service environment may have even more serious implications that a similar offence in civilian life. Moreover, civilian courts do not have jurisdiction to try service disciplinary offences. Nor in most cases do civilian courts in the United Kingdom have jurisdiction in respect of offences alleged to have been committed overseas by service personnel or civilians accompanying them. The worldwide application of service law is particularly important for mobile forces that need to be able to maintain discipline, as a key to operational effectiveness, wherever they are deployed. The ability of service courts to try alleged offences committed outside the United Kingdom can also be a useful means of ensuring that the accused are dealt with in British courts and in accordance with a system of British law, rather than in foreign courts where the language, law and procedures may be unfamiliar to them.
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Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will set out the changes that have been made to the provisions for courts martial contained within the Army Act 1955 to bring the framework for military discipline into line with Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights; and what the principal findings of the European Court on 26 February were. 
Mr. Ingram: The Armed Forces Act 1996 made extensive changes to the court martial system in all three services, intended to reinforce the independence of the courts and those making decisions concerning court proceedings, and to make the procedures as a whole compatible with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the right to a fair hearing.
The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the case of Morris v. the United Kingdom, published on 26 February, included the observation that these changes had gone a long way to meeting its concerns about the structure of the court martial system. The court also found that there was no violation of Article 6 of the Convention arising from the relationship between the chain of command and those involved in court martial proceedings.
However, it found that there had been a violation of Article 6 as regards aspects of Mr. Morris's trial by court martial in 1997, namely the potential for undue external influence over certain members of the court martial panel; and the procedures involving non-judicial authorities in the review of court martial findings and sentences. We are assessing the implications of these aspects of the judgment.
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