Armed Forces Act 2006
|Long title||An Act to make provision with respect to the armed forces; and for connected purposes.|
|Citation||2006 c 52|
|Royal assent||8 November 2006|
|History of passage through Parliament|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
It came into force on 31 October 2006. It replaces the three separate Service Discipline Acts (the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957) as the system of military law under which the British Armed Forces operate. The Armed Forces Act harmonizes service law between the three armed services. One motivating factor behind the changes in the legislation combining discipline acts across the armed forces is the trend towards tri-service operations and defence organizations.
Key changes introduced by the Act
Key areas of change included:
- Summary Discipline: Summary hearing and the role of the Commanding Officer is retained at the heart of Service discipline and is the mechanism by which most offences are dealt. Summary offences and powers are harmonised across the Services. There is a reduction in the number of offences and sentencing powers available to Commanding Officers of the Royal Navy and an increase in those available to British Army and Royal Air Force Commanding Officers as powers of punishment are harmonised.
- Service Prosecuting Authority: A single Service Prosecuting Authority, staffed by lawyers from all three Services, has been created. The role of the SPA is unchanged in that it will determine whether to prosecute an accused under Service law and will conduct the prosecution case at most Courts Martial.
- The Court Martial: Courts Martial remain the means of dealing with the most serious offences. A standing Court Martial has been introduced comprising a Judge Advocate and a minimum of 3 or 5 Service members depending on the seriousness of the offence. In order to harmonise with the other Services, the Royal Navy introduced the unqualified right for all personnel to elect for trial by Court Martial regardless of the seriousness of the offence.
Offences in the Act
The Act sets out offences against service law and the associated punishments. The offences fall into two main categories:
- discipline offences, which can only be committed by members of the armed forces or, in a few cases, by a civilian subject to service discipline
- criminal conduct offences, which are acts done anywhere in the world which, if done in England and Wales, would be against the civilian criminal law.
The mass pardon of 306 British Empire soldiers executed for certain offences during the Great War was enacted in section 359 of the Act, which came into effect on royal assent. This number included three from New Zealand, twenty three from Canada, two from the West Indies, two from Ghana and one each from Sierra Leone, Egypt and Nigeria.
Tom Watson, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, was instrumental in including this in the Act. He was said to have acted having met the relatives of Private Harry Farr, who was executed during the Great War despite strong evidence that he was suffering shellshock.
However section 359(4) states that the pardon "does not affect any conviction or sentence." Since the nature of a pardon is normally to commute a sentence, Gerald Howarth MP asked during parliamentary debate: "we are entitled to ask what it does do." It would appear to be a symbolic pardon only, and some members of Parliament had called for the convictions to be quashed, although the pardon has still been welcomed by relatives of executed soldiers.
Section 383 - Commencement
The following orders have been made under section 383(2):
- The Armed Forces Act 2006 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2007 (S.I. 2007/1442 (C. 60))
- The Armed Forces Act 2006 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2007 (S.I. 2007/2913 (C. 115))
- The Armed Forces Act 2006 (Commencement No. 3) Order 2008 (S.I. 2008/1650 (C. 72))
- The Armed Forces Act 2006 (Commencement No. 4) Order 2009 (S.I. 2009/812 (C. 54))
- The Armed Forces Act 2006 (Commencement No. 5) Order 2009 (S.I. 2009/167 (C. 64))
- The citation of this Act by this short title is authorised by section 386 of this Act.
- S.Walker Forgotten Soldiers Gill and MacMillan 2007 ISBN 978-0-7171-4182-1
- Hansard, House of Commons, 7 November 2006, col. 772