Canada’s Military Justice System

Fact Sheet / October 25, 2013 / Project number: FS 13.004

  • Canada maintains a separate system of military justice from that of its civilian justice system.  The centrepiece of this system is the Code of Service Discipline, which is Part III of the National Defence Act.   
  • The military justice system is designed to promote the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) by contributing to the maintenance of discipline, efficiency and morale, and to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.  
  • Military personnel are often required to risk injury or death in the daily performance of their duties both inside and outside of Canada.  Therefore, the military justice system puts a premium on the necessity for discipline and for cohesion of military units.  
  • The operational reality of the military has specific implications that hold military members to a higher standard than what would be expected of a civilian.  
  • The need for a separate justice system to enforce disciplinary standards in the military has a history dating back to the earliest organized military forces.  The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the continuing need for a separate and parallel system of justice to meet the unique requirements of the CAF.  
  • The military justice system must be fair, just and operate transparently.  The CAF is dedicated to ensuring that persons subject to the Code of Service Discipline are afforded their right to a fair trial as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Two-tiered structure

  • The military justice system employs a two-tiered tribunal structure: summary trials and courts martial.  Both tribunals can be held wherever the CAF is deployed.
  • Summary trials are designed to deal with relatively minor service offences that are important for the maintenance of military discipline and efficiency at the unit level.  These trials allow a military commander to effectively and swiftly administer discipline enabling a member to return to duty as soon as possible.
  • Courts martial are formal military courts presided over by independent military judges.  These tribunals are similar in nature to civilian criminal courts, and are designed to deal with offences that are more serious in nature.

Independent Review

  • To ensure the military justice system continues evolving and reflects current Canadian legal standards and values, Parliament requires the Minister of National Defence to conduct independent reviews of the National Defence Act regularly.

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