Understanding military law


Anyone that enlists in the British Army will have to comply with military law.

In many cases, the rules that apply to civilian organisations and people do not apply to the military. For this reason, if you have a case that involves the armed forces, you should ensure that your lawyer has expertise in military law.

Being a soldier, whether you are enlisted or an officer, is not like other jobs. You are subject to military discipline and whereas most people if they do their job badly or leave their employment without notice can expect to be sued at worst, you could be sent to prison.

Different rules also apply regarding health and safety, discrimination and redundancy.

Military legislation

The main pieces of legislation that underpin military law in the UK are:

  • The Army Act 1955
  • The Queen’s Regulations 1975
  • The new Armed Forces Act 2006

The Army Act itself gives details about how military law is used with regards to: 

  • Discipline
  • Enlistment
  • Deductions from pay
  • Trials and punishments

The basis of military law is to give the army a legal framework within which to carry out its duties.

Military law alongside UK law

It is important to understand that military law exists alongside the civil and criminal laws in the UK. In practice this means that if a serving soldier commits a crime they can be prosecuted in the criminal courts. Military law does also recognise that certain offences are specific to the armed forces, such as being AWOL (Absence Without Leave).

The most serious offences under military law can lead to a court martial. The Army Prosecuting Authority will decide whether a case requires this.

Military law and civilians

Military law has provisions for trying civilians working for the army. The Standing Civilian Court can try offences committed by civilians, employed by the army, whilst they were outside of the UK. This court can impose a fine of up to £5,000 and six months imprisonment.

The British armed forces is a large organisation and often comes into contact with civilians outside of the army. Cases involving noise pollution, land use and supply contracts occur with relative frequency.

Although the law will normally be the same as in other cases, there is always the possibility that special provisions will apply. It is worth instructing a solicitor who is familiar with military law in order to ensure your case does not collapse on a technicality.

If you are accused under military law you have the right to legal representation, just as you would in any civil or criminal court. You should contact a solicitor as early as possible about your case, as this will give your legal representative time to assess the matter and prepare a defence.

Never attempt to defend yourself as the court will want to see legal representation on all sides to ensure the trial is conducted fairly.

If you would like to obtain legal advice about military law, Contact Law can put you in touch with a local specialist military law solicitor free of charge. So, if you have any questions or would like our help in finding local military law solicitors please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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