The Military Court Service

The MCS provides a criminal court service for the Royal Navy, Army and RAF in the Court Martial, Summary Appeal Court and Service Civilian Court.

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. Army and RAF court staffs merged to form the MCS in January 2004, and in 2007 the RN was integrated to create a tri-Service MCS. The Headquarters (HQ) of the MCS is based at Upavon, 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 17 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.


Having ensured that legal aid is in place, 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).

Military Court Centres

There are five permanently manned MCCs in the UK at Aldergrove, Bulford, Catterick, Colchester and Portsmouth, and one 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, his assistant 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.

Strategic objectives:

  • 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

Principal tasks

  • 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

Contact details

Headquarters Military Court Service
Building 398
Trenchard Lines
Telephone: 01980 618058


Published 12 December 2012