In the wake of the International Military Law Conference which was hosted by the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa on November 13, 2015 one of the keynote speakers, His Honour Jeffrey Blackett, Judge Advocate General for Great Britain, granted Canada’s premier French-language magazine an exclusive interview. In attendance at the Military Law Conference, appropriately titled ‘Winds of Change” , were several other international experts and a number of jurists, academia and practitioners. Ms Noemi Mercier, a print journalist, attended the totality of the conference. She was able to obtain an exclusive interview from HH Blackett, a former flag officer in the Royal Navy and now a senior civilian judge who has witnessed first-hand the transformation and modernization of the UK military justice system.
Ms Mercier’s report (in the French language) s available at the following site.
HH Blackett’s comments comes from a most welcome independent, external and friendly source. The main highlights:
Q 1. The Canadian Forces insist that the military justice system is totally Independent. Do you agree?
No. It is not independent. . . As long as the judges are military officers, regardless of any safeguards that you may put into place, this will not be sufficient to make the military justice system really independent and impartial.
Q2. What impact does the lack of independence have on the willingness of victims of sexual assaults to file a complaint?
Victims are apprehensive about having to testify in an open court where they will be accused of lying and they will be told that they were somewhat responsible for their assault and they will be required to disclose intimate details. In the case of a military trial, these victims will also now have to face a hierarchical rank structure and have to deal with the fear of being subject of negative repercussions on their careers as well as rumours of a sexual nature within their workplace all of which making it difficult for them to report these crimes.
Q3. How is the British military justice system more independent?
The prosecution is independent. The Director of Military Prosecution is a civilian. He decides on who to prosecute without having to consult the military chain of command.
Also all court martial judges are civilians. Since 2003 military officers are no longer eligible for appointment as court martial judges. These civilian judges spend 1/3 of their time at presiding over civil trials which reinforce their independence.
Q4. What is the difference between the Canadian JAG and the UK JAG?
In the UK, the JAG is a civilian judge. In Canada, the JAG is a military lawyer.
In Canada, the JAG supervises the Director Military Prosecutions. The latter cannot be independent if he is placed under the orders of a military superior.
Q5. How did the British Forces react to military justice reforms?
The British Forces had enormous difficult to accept such changes. At each step of the way, the British military has offered stiff resistance and have done as little as possible to implement the changes. Each one of the changes was met with robust opposition on the pretext that the reforms would negatively affect operational effectiveness and that the world would collapse.
The military would not change unless it is pushed to do so.