Judge Advocate General

What we do

The Office of the Judge Advocate General oversees the administration of military justice. We offer legal advice to the Governor General and the Minister, as well as at bases and wings, and all across National Defence. We provide lawyers to defend accused persons at courts martial, teach courses to military members, and advise commanders on the ethical and legal principles established by both the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Government of Canada.

Specific roles

The Judge Advocate General is the senior legal officer in the CAF -- responsive to the chain of command in providing legal services but responsible to the Minister of National Defence for the performance of duties.

The Judge Advocate General performs two unique statutory roles set out in the National Defence Act (NDA): he superintends the administration of military justice in the Canadian Armed Forces and is a legal advisor to the Governor General, the Minister, the Department and the Canadian Armed Forces in matters relating to military law

All legal officers serving in the Office of the Judge Advocate General are fully qualified lawyers, members in good standing of their respective provincial or territorial law societies, and are commissioned officers in the CAF, ranging in rank from Captain/Lieutenant (Navy) to Major-General/Rear admiral.  

Under regulations, every legal officer whose duty is the provision of legal services to the CAF is posted to a position established within the Office of the Judge Advocate General. The Judge Advocate General has command over all officers and non-commissioned members posted; and the duties of legal officers posted are not subject to the command of an officer who is not a legal officer. This structure, dictated by the National Defence Act and the Queen’s Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces, ensures that legal officers are able to provide independent legal advice.

The Office of the Judge Advocate General comprises regular and reserve force legal officers. The regular force legal officers are employed throughout the CAF, in Canada and abroad as follows:

  • National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa
  • Assistant Judge Advocate General offices, six in Canada, one in the United States and one in Germany
  • Deputy Judge Advocate offices across Canada
  • Regional Military Prosecutor offices across Canada
  • with CAF contingents deployed overseas
  • in training with CAF formations and units participating in major exercises

Legal Officers serving outside the Office of the Judge Advocate General are also serving at the Canadian Forces Military Law Centre (CFMLC) in Kingston, Ontario – a CAF’s military legal education organization –   and the Office of the National Defence and Canadian Forces Legal Advisor (DND/CF Legal Advisor) – a Department of Justice Legal Services Unit – in Ottawa.

Military Justice System

The National Defence Act is the legal basis for the formation of the Canadian system of military justice. As a part of the National Defence Act, a Code of Service Discipline is established under Part III.

This Code sets out the jurisdiction of the Canadian Armed Forces, the service offences and punishments, provides for arrest and pretrial custody of service members, sets out the military tribunals empowered to hear cases under the Code, and establishes a Court Martial Appeal Court composed of civilian judges.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are subject to the Code of Service Discipline and are also subject to all other laws of Canada.

The National Defence Act and the system of military justice provided by the Act are subject to the Constitution Act, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Special Advisory Group on Military Justice and Military Police (Investigation) Services headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the need of a separate and distinct military justice system while the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized its purpose and legitimacy in the case of R. v. Généreux, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 259:

"The purpose of a separate system of military tribunals is to allow the Armed Forces to deal with matters that pertain directly to the discipline, efficiency and morale of the military. (…) Breaches of military discipline must be dealt with speedily and, frequently, punished more severely than would be the case if a civilian engaged in such conduct. As a result, the military has its own Code of Discipline to allow it to meet its particular disciplinary needs."

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