The MCS provides a criminal court service for the Royal Navy, British Army and RAF in the Court Martial, Summary Appeal Court and Service Civilian Court.
Bulford and Catterick Court Procedures during COVID-19
During the current lockdown restrictions, all sentencing hearings including those after trial will be held with all participants including Board Members attending via video link, unless it is necessary in the interests of justice for participants to attend in person.
A copy of this Practice Direction should be sent to Board Members before the hearing, together with the Guide for Court Members and any other relevant documentation.
This Practice Direction takes effect immediately.
Before the hearings - documents
Documents for the hearing must be sent electronically to the MCS at least 2 working days before the hearing, including:
- charge sheet
- items which will be referred to during the case; for example photos, plans
- information for Service courts
- pre-sentence report
- basis of plea
- reports and references.
These will be collated into one email and sent by MCS to the Board Members at the outset of the hearing, when directed by the Judge Advocate.
The court hearing - administrative and practical arrangements
The following matters must be considered:
- the Court Officer will send all participants a link to join the hearing online.
- dress – Service personnel including Board Members should wear Service Dress. Advocates should be robed.
- oath/affirmation – Board Members wishing to take the oath on a holy book should have a copy to hand during the hearing. Board members may also take the solemn affirmation without a holy book. The words of the oath or affirmation should be sent to the Board member in advance and available at the hearing.
- during the hearing Board members must be alone, in a place which has good internet connectivity, which is quiet and free from distractions, and where they will not be interrupted or overheard. No-one else, including family members/work colleagues/pets should enter the place during the hearing. A Board member is permitted to leave their home to locate to a place where they can comply with the foregoing.
- when deciding where they will be located during the hearing, Board members should bear in mind that they are part of the formal court process, and select their location accordingly in order best to preserve the dignity of the court. By way of guidance, sitting at a table in the living room is acceptable, but sitting on a bed in a bedroom or on a bench in the garage or garden shed is not.
- the location of the Board member in their room must be such that they are clearly visible at all times on the link – sitting with a window behind you is not advisable.
- pen and paper for taking notes should be available.
- a glass/bottle of water may be used during the hearing. Tea/coffee/soft drinks are not acceptable during the hearing but may be consumed during informal discussions before the hearing and during deliberations.
- Board members may have their mobile phone in the room, but it must be switched to silent. They must not use it for any purpose unless directed by the Judge Advocate.
- Board members should use a laptop to join the hearing. Tablets may also be used. Mobile phones are not acceptable. The hearing must not be recorded.
- Board members should have their laptop/tablet video on, but their microphones muted unless directed by the Judge Advocate.
- if Board members need to leave the room for any reason, they must inform the Judge Advocate.
- if Board members are unable to hear or follow any part of the proceedings they MUST alert the Judge Advocate immediately, either by unmuting their microphone and addressing the judge or using the “chat” facility or attracting the Judge Advocate’s attention in any other way. If Board members do not raise an issue with the Judge Advocate, it will be assumed that they have heard every part of the case.
- Board members should not navigate to any other webpage during the hearing unless specifically instructed by the Judge Advocate.
The court hearing - procedure
The Court Officer will admit the Judge Advocate and Board Members into the hearing an hour before it is due to start. The Court Officer will then withdraw from the hearing, leaving the Judge Advocate and Board Members to have discussions in private. The Judge Advocate will introduce themself and make any introductory remarks, either general or about the forthcoming case. The Judge Advocate will then direct the Court Officer to send the Board Members any advance reading material, including the material set out at 2.1 above and invite the Board members to read it. Thereafter, until the hearing begins, unless the Judge Advocate wishes to discuss issues with them, the Board Members should use the opportunity to get to know each other over the video link, without discussing the case, and the Judge Advocate may withdraw.
When the hearing commences, the Court Officer will bring the Judge Advocate into the hearing – all other participants except the Board Members will already be present in the hearing, having joined by video link as instructed by the Court Officer. The Judge Advocate will deal with any preliminary matters in the absence of the Board and then direct that the Board Members be brought into the hearing by the Court Officer.
The Judge Advocate will identify all participants, check that they can see, hear and be seen and heard, confirm that the defendant has no objection to any of the Board members, and no objection to the case being conducted remotely. The Board members will then be sworn in – all should remain seated.
The Judge Advocate will then give the appropriate directions to the Board members, modified as required for remote hearings. Board Members may ask questions by contacting the Judge Advocate directly using the “chat” facility or, with leave of the Judge Advocate, by unmuting their microphone and asking the question on the link.
The hearing will proceed in the usual way. Once complete, the Court Officer will ensure that the Judge Advocate and Board Members are able to deliberate over the video link in private. When deliberations are complete, the Judge Advocate will send a message to the Court Officer to reopen the Court and the Court Officer will re-admit the participants, Judge Advocate and then the Board Members.
The Judge Advocate will deliver sentencing remarks, and the President of the Board will be invited to unmute their microphone and deliver the sentence.
After the court hearing
The Court Officer will again arrange for the Judge Advocate and Board members to be able to speak in private. The Judge Advocate will deal with any final matters with the Board Members before inviting them to leave the hearing.
Board members must then delete any emails and documents concerning the case from their email accounts and laptops.
The completed Form TRN1 (which records the sentence passed) will be checked and signed electronically by the Judge Advocate, who will then email it to the Court Officer. It will then be emailed by the Court Officer to the President for electronic signature and return to the Court Officer. If an electronic pen is not available, by typing their name and date in the signature block, the Judge Advocate and President are entering valid signatures.
The Judge Advocate will deal with any other forms which are required, depending on the sentence passed, and email them to the Court Officer.
The public and press will be able to view proceedings from a court room in the court centre. It may be necessary to limit the number of people the public gallery in order to preserve social distancing or comply with Health and Safety directives.
Message from the Judge Advocate General dated 11 January 2021
The Lord Chief Justice has made it clear that courts and tribunals should continue to operate during the current phase of the pandemic, implementing such measures as necessary to ensure the safety of court staff and users. Accordingly, the Service Courts will continue to operate, but at a reduced level. Attendance at court as a witness, defendant, advocate, board member or assisting officer is exempt from the lockdown restrictions, and anyone who is required to come to court should do so. If an individual wishes to raise concerns about attending court, they should in the first instance contact the party who has asked them to come to court. Further guidance is available in protocols issued earlier during the pandemic, which are available on the website of the Military Court Service
I have reviewed the procedures for operating the Service Courts during the current lockdown. This document should be read in conjunction with previous protocols issued during the pandemic. The following additional measures should be implemented for all cases in the Service Justice System from 11 January 2021. Some of them may appear to be over-prescriptive, but they are designed to protect the safety of everyone in the court building and thus help to limit the spread of the virus. A young private soldier may not find it easy to ask their advocate or assisting officer to preserve social distancing when they are being asked for instructions in open court and may need rely on others to assist.
A review of the provisions currently in place in both court centres has being conducted and confirmed that they provide appropriate protection against the new strain of the coronavirus.
The following additional procedures are to be implemented:
Unless otherwise exempt, all court users are to wear masks:
- in the public areas of the court buildings
- when moving around the court building
- in court, unless they are a witness giving evidence or lead advocate for prosecution or defence. The judge advocate, board members and court staff may wear a mask in the court room at their discretion.
Social distancing is to be strictly followed by everyone within the court precincts.
Announcements about the need to socially distance should be made on the court broadcast system at regular times when the court is not in session.
Court staff must raise any concerns about social distancing immediately with those concerned, and then with the court officer or senior member of staff present. Any further difficulties should be raised with the Resident Judge, who may direct that a person not complying with the regulations leaves the court building.
Court Officers and Resident Judges should consider whether the member of staff in court can be present “virtually” from their office, monitoring the proceedings over video link and coming to the court room when required.
Judge advocates should take a pro-active role in court to ensure social distancing is maintained. This may include:
- reminding all in court about the importance of social distancing, hand-washing etc
- stopping an advocate from approaching their opponent for a quiet word about a legal issue
- preventing a sotto voce discussion between advocate and their client or assisting officer
- allowing time for advocates to leave court for a discussion with client or opponent
- ensuring court users leave the court in an appropriate fashion. Judges should consider being the last person to leave court, with the exception of court staff.
Court 1 in each Court Centre will only conduct contested trials and, where witnesses are being called, appeals against finding and Newton Hearings.
PTPHs and other hearings which can be heard by live link
PTPHs and other suitable cases should be heard with all participants attending by live link.
Sentencing hearings are to be held with all participants, including lay Board members, attending by live link. The judge advocate may direct that some or all participants are to attend in person if they consider that is necessary in the interests of justice. Otherwise cases should be conducted by live link.
Detailed provisions for remote sentencing hearings will be supplied shortly.
Message from the Judge Advocate General dated 2 November 2020
New COVID-19 restrictions for England
The Prime Minister announced on 31 October the intention of the Government to introduce regulations that place England back into “lockdown”. The work of the Service courts will continue to be exempted from these measures, as is the case the case with Civilian and Tribunals. It is vital for the well-being of the country that the administration of justice continues to operate. The legal profession, the parties, board members, witnesses, judges and court staff are all key workers, vital to the continued running of the courts in this proposed period of renewed significant restrictions. Our experience since March has left us much better prepared. The Military Court Service will continue to follow and implement public health advice to reduce risk. Further detailed guidance on how we plan to conduct proceedings as safely as possible in these challenging times can be found in the “Protocol on COVID Procedures in the Service Courts.
HHJ Alan Large Judge Advocate General and the Director of the Military Court Service
Message from the Judge Advocate General dated 5 November 2020
Service courts during second “lockdown” period
Significantly increased levels of infection across the country have resulted in the government introducing a second “lockdown” commencing on 5 November 2020. In order to limit the spread of infection and maintain the safety of all court users at the Military Court Centres during this critical period, from Monday 9 November each court centre will operate one court for contested trials. The second court will be available for sentencing hearings. Case management hearings will continue to be held virtually. This measure will be reviewed regularly but is likely to continue until the end of the current “lockdown”. Thereafter the courts will return to operating both courts.
The Judge Advocate General and the Director of the Military Court Service are very conscious of the impact this decision will have upon everyone involved in the cases affected, including victims, witnesses, defendants and legal representatives. Every effort will be made to reschedule cases as soon as possible.
HHJ Alan Large Judge Advocate General and the Director of the Military Court Service
Please direct any queries to the following:
- Military Court Service Headquarters : MCS-Group@mod.gov.uk
- Military Court Centre, Bulford: MCS-BUL-GroupMailbox@mod.gov.uk
- Military Court Centre, Catterick: CMC-GroupMailbox@mod.gov.uk
Bulford and Catterick Court Procedures during COVID-19
COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocol
The Military Court Service (MCS) provides a criminal court service for the Royal Navy (RN), Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) in the Court Martial, Summary Appeal Court (SAC) and Service Civilian Court (SCC).
To achieve this, the MCS works closely with the Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Service Prosecuting Authority (equivalent to the Crown Prosecution Service), the Service chains of command, Service and MOD personnel branches, the National Probation Service (NPS), the Victim and Witness Services and military court advocates.
Further information on the Court Martial, SAC and SCC can be found in the Manual of Service Law (JSP 830).
The organisation of the MCS has evolved following the Findlay case heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 1997. British Army and RAF court staffs merged to form the MCS in January 2004, and in 2007 the Royal Navy was integrated to create a tri-service MCS. The Headquarters (HQ) of the MCS is based at Bulford, Wiltshire and carries out all administration relating to the setting up of Court Martial, SAC, SCC and custody proceedings. The MCS is headed by a civil servant (Director MCS), who is supported by a staff of 12 at the HQ.
The MCS is independent of the service chains of command and is staffed by civil servants (some of whom are retired service personnel). Director MCS is also the line manager for the Head of the Armed Forces Criminal Legal Aid Authority, who is responsible for the provision of civilian legal representation for all eligible service personnel and civilians.
In order to ensure his independence, the Director MCS is appointed by the Defence Council as Court Administration Officer (CAO). The CAO has a legislated function to give notice of court proceedings, specify lay members of the court (equivalent to jury selection) and notify witnesses. These duties are conducted in accordance with the Armed Forces Act 2006 and related Statutory Instruments.
HQ MCS lists cases during ‘assize sessions’, which are held at the Military Court Centres run by MCS staff. However, a particularly lengthy or complex Court Martial or SAC case may be listed as a ‘stand-alone’ outside the assize sessions.
Additionally, HQ MCS asks the Judge Advocate General to appoint a Judge Advocate to each case. Then once HQ MCS has notified witnesses and specified the lay members of the court, the detailed administration of the court falls to the relevant Military Court Centre (MCC), where the Court Officer manages the day-to-day running of all cases (including the management of witnesses).
Protocols in the service justice system (SJS)
Military Court Centres
There are two permanently manned MCCs in the UK at Bulford and Catterick, with an additional court located in Germany at Sennelager. Including the Court Officers, the MCS employs a further 28 personnel at the MCCs.
The administrative costs of the MCCs are funded by the MCS, but draw on commands/stations within which they are located for administrative support; notably the provision of a Court Usher, the Assistant Court Usher and additional staff to carry out general duties during each assize.
The court system is entirely “portable” and trials can be held outside of the MCCs; recent examples have included Brunei, Belize, Canada, Cyprus and USA. All such trials are supported by fully trained Court Staff provided from HQ MCS and the MCCs.
Military Court Service Charter
Role: The Military Court Service is to deliver a criminal court service for the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force (the Services).
Aim: To carry out the timely, impartial and efficient administration of Service court proceedings.
Motto: “Independent and Impartial”
Independence: The Military Court Service is to be entirely independent of:
- The Service Prosecuting Authority
- The Service chains of command
- Those MOD branches responsible for discipline casework
- The Director of the Military Court Service is appointed as the Court Administration Officer by the Defence Council. He/she is accountable to the Service Justice Board and is a permanent member of the Service Justice Executive Group.
- Promotion of modern, fair, effective and efficient administration of the Service Justice System.
- Achievement of best value for money
- Continuous improvement of performance and efficiency across all aspects of the military courts’ work
- Collaboration with the full range of Service Justice System stakeholders to improve the service provided to all those required to participate in court proceedings
- Creation of greater confidence in, and respect for, the Service Justice System
- Achievement of excellence as an employer
- the Military Court Service is to:
- co-ordinate, administer and provide support to all court proceedings notified by the Court Administration Officer
- specify such members of courts as required by law
- maintain a detailed and secure statistical, budgetary and documentary record of all relevant activities
- support as necessary the work of the Service Justice Board and Service Justice Executive Group, which were created to write and implement policy with the aim of directing Service
- justice in the future
- seek to encourage awareness of, and confidence in, the Service Justice System within the Services and Ministry of Defence and amongst the wider public
- contribute as appropriate to the internal and external training of Service and civilian personnel involved with the Service Justice System
Headquarters Military Court Service
Telephone: 01980 672071
Bulford Military Court Centre
Telephone: 01980 673271
Catterick Military Court Centre
Telephone: 01748 872055
Court Martial Report Service
Military Court Centre
SP4 9NA Telephone: 01980 672822