Armed Forces Discipline Bill [Lords] — Right to elect court-martial trial — 6 Apr 2000

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.


That the Armed Forces Discipline Bill [Lords] , as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses, amendments to Clauses 1 to 10, Schedule 1, Clauses 11 to 13, Schedule 2, Clauses 14 to 25, Schedule 3 , Clauses 26 and 27, Schedule 4, Clause 28, new Schedules.--[ Mr. Touhig .]

Clause 5

Release from custody after charge or during proceedings

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 24, line 23, leave out from "imprisonment" to "or" in line 24.

Madam Speaker:

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 14, in page 24, line 48, leave out from "imprisonment" to "or" in line 1 on page 25.

The purpose of the amendment, which would reduce the punishment that a court martial can impose on an accused for failure to appear at a hearing, is unclear.

if he is subject to military law only by virtue of section 131 or 205(1)(ea), (eb), (g) or (h) of this Act--

may be required to comply.

The clause will not apply to personnel who are still serving; it will apply only to those who have left service but who are subject to a charge from a previous period of service.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee D , 2 March 2000; c. 100-01.]

A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction by court-martial to any less punishment provided by this Act.

A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction by court-martial to imprisonment or any less punishment provided by this Act.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 29, line 24, at end insert--


(c) they are a serving Officer in the Territorial Army or the Royal Auxiliary Air Force who also hold a current practising certificate, issued by the Bar Council, Law Society or Institute of Legal Executives, to practice as a Barrister, Solicitor or Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives and who have at least two years post qualified experience'.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 30, leave out lines 22 to 24 and insert--

'(3) An order under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

Rules under this section shall be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

the equipment we used for the trial was hired and is no longer in our possession. When one thinks about that it is quite natural.

We will enter a proper system of purchasing once we have decided exactly what we want to use.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee D , 9 March 2000; c. 187.]

The services are fully capable of exploiting successive advances in technology, which they already deploy with great success. Video technology is in day-to-day use. It was in constant use throughout the recent crisis in Kosovo. The armed services see no reason why that technology should not be deployed equally successfully in other operational environments and for purposes such as those envisaged in the Bill.

I hope to offer the Committee some reassurance on that point. I shall refer to the Army in particular, since it is likely to have the greatest number of personnel in remote locations. The Army would seek to use video link technology where operational or training circumstances mean that a face-to-face hearing is not possible within the required time-frame.--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 16 December 1999; Vol. 608, c. 351.]

currently trialling video equipment to ensure that the quality of the equipment is suitable for the purpose for which it will be used. The equipment currently used operates at 28 kilobytes. The equipment is capable of showing a wide-angle picture of an entire room or of zooming in on an accused in fine detail, just as it is used in court hearings, especially those involving children. Although we can use Inmarsat--the international maritime satellite--commercial links, there is no question that commercial television satellites would be used, because we have access to other means of communication.--[ Official Report , 17 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1201.]

IT-wise now, wherever our soldiers go, we have the IT system.

Generally speaking, video conferencing is up and running, but it needs to be trialled for the purposes of the Bill.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee D , 7 March 2000; c. 171.]

I found that surprising because on 1 February I received an answer to a parliamentary question to the Parliamentary Secretary. I asked her if she would

list the companies that supply, provided and service secure videolink technology for use in British courts; and what arrangements are in place to prevent the interception of transmissions by third parties.

Videolink technology is used occasionally in the Crown Court to enable witnesses to give evidence from abroad. The installation is arranged locally by the party whose witness is giving evidence in this way. No information is held centrally on the suppliers used or the arrangements put in place to prevent interception. A pilot is currently in place to provide a videolink between Strangeways prison and the Crown Court in Manchester.--[ Official Report , 1 February 2000; Vol. 343, c.545W.]

the admissibility of evidence; . . . the immunities and privileges of witnesses.

(a) arrangements preliminary to the proceedings;

(b) the representation of the person to whom the proceedings relate;

(c) the admissibility of evidence;

(d) procuring the attendance of witnesses;

(e) the immunities and privileges of witnesses;

(f) the administration of oaths;

(g) circumstances in which a review . . . may be carried out without a hearing

everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him.

Video tele-conferencing is also used in Kosovo and was used regularly in Bosnia.--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 16 December 1999; Vol. 608, c. 353.]

I am satisfied that the equipment I have seen demonstrated is adequate for hearings to be conducted in a fair and safe manner.

considered carefully whether it is appropriate that a power wide enough to regulate the admissibility of evidence and the immunities of witnesses should not be subject to affirmative procedure. The rules will be part of a framework consisting of existing legislation and subordinate legislation made under it. The whole will have to be compatible with Convention rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. Against that background the Committee can accept that it is appropriate that the rules should be subject to negative procedure . . .

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 32, line 10, at end insert--

'(1A) The Defence Council may by regulations make provision designating those persons who, either before or after the accused has elected for trial by court-martial, may counsel him on that decision.'.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn .

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 34, line 1, leave out clause 12.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 7, in clause 20, page 41, line 30, leave out--

goes quite beyond and against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Crown Courts can of course impose higher sentences than magistrates. That is not something required by the convention on human rights and is itself likely to encourage elections for trial by court martial rather than by commanding officers--which surely must be deleterious.--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 29 November 1999; Vol. 607, c. 680-1.]

quite high risk to go straight to a court-martial.

I beg to move amendments Nos. 7 to 12 inclusive, which stand in my name.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to move the amendments. They have effectively been moved with the lead amendment; he just speaks to them.

fair and just in all the circumstances,

no more severe than that originally awarded.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As I am mindful that a number of hon. Members wish to speak in our limited time, I shall be brief. The Bill has a simple purpose: to ensure that, in two key spheres--summary discipline and pre-trial custody--our procedures are compatible with the European convention on human rights. That is not a casual concern, but one based on court rulings and subsequent legal advice.

The Bill deals with that concern. We believe that it safeguards our procedures from the likelihood of successful challenge, although, as we have acknowledged, it is impossible for any Government to provide an absolute guarantee that procedures may not fall foul of a court ruling at some stage in the future. However, we believe that the Bill does what is necessary to preserve critical spheres of the system of discipline, and that it does so in a manner that is proportionate to the convention's requirements.

The Government are fully aware of the imperatives of discipline and of the distinctive features of service life--although the Opposition may seek to give the impression that they have a monopoly on understanding those matters. We are not prepared to trifle with service discipline, and the Bill demonstrates that fact. The Bill also demonstrates what we have had to do because of court rulings and subsequent legal advice. It is difficult to imagine that any Government exercising those proper responsibilities would or could have acted otherwise.

The Bill preserves the authority of the system of discipline in the armed forces. In doing so, it achieves the Government's and the services' objectives. That is a tribute to the excellent work of our Bill team and legal advisers. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Bill might command the support of the whole House. I commend it on that basis.

Sir Nicholas Lyell:

Will the Minister give way?

been combing through the whole range of public policy to identify where problems were likely to occur.

It's a litigant's charter. The lawyers will make a fortune.

Ministers and officials from each Department have been summoned by the Task Force led by Mike O'Brien, the Home Office Minister, to assess their readiness for the legislation.

That is a trifle unsatisfactory. We have to decide now whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.

It is a matter for the Under-Secretary how he chooses to respond and a matter for Committee how they vote.

Indeed it is, Mr. Malins. As my reasonable offer has been rejected, I shall not bother to enlighten the Committee at a later stage. The Bill is as it stands and I shall support it from start to finish.

The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat or rise on a point of order. I am under no obligation to explain anything other than that which I choose to explain. The Bill is as it stands.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee D , 2 March 2000; c. 75.]

Can you guarantee that . . . the new system of military justice that it brings in would be proof against ECHR judgments?

I could no more guarantee that than the Member for Mid-Sussex could have guaranteed it when it was introduced in the 1996 legislation.

Soldiers volunteering for the British Army accept that, by putting the needs of the Service before their own, they will forgo some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. But in return they can at all times expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as an individual, and to be rewarded by reasonable terms and conditions of service.

Because discipline is so vital to success on operations, commanders must be able to enforce it when necessary. That requires clearly understood rules and a military legal system which can deal with offences such as absence, desertion or insubordination which are not found in civil law. And if it is to work in war, such a system must be in place in peace, for it cannot be turned on and

off at will. Discipline must therefore be rigorously but fairly upheld by all those in positions of authority, and self-discipline must be deeply rooted.

We regard the consolidation of Service law as an urgent matter and recommend that the MoD address this matter with more urgency than has been the case hitherto.

We hope that on future occasions the MoD will see the benefits of introducing legislation in draft form so that we can take up the opportunity to comment on proposals before they are formally introduced into Parliament as Bills.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:--

The House divided: Ayes 301, Noes 113.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (Aye)Minority (No)BothTurnout
Con0 104 (+2 tell)066.3%
DUP0 20100.0%
Independent0 1033.3%
Lab282 (+2 tell) 0068.3%
LDem18 0039.1%
PC1 0025.0%
UKUP0 10100.0%
UUP0 5050.0%
Total:301 113065.1%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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no rebellions

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