Required Custodial Sentences

Part of Schedule 3 – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 2 April 2001.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 7:15, 2 April 2001

That is an obvious difference. In wartime, there is an emergency situation. People may be at the front and commanding officers have to make decisions about men who they think are in breach of the rules and regulations. That should be the case, but there should be a review in a calmer environment—for example, back in this country. There is no such emergency in peacetime, so the civilian courts could deal with those cases.

The Bill as it applies to courts martial is a shallow response to the ECHR judgment. The procedure was rushed through with little criticism being made and we are stuck with it for five years. We are not even doing the groundwork to have it changed when we consider the next Bill, but, meanwhile, we could face a legal time bomb and perhaps even compensation claims under that ECHR ruling.

I repeat my view of sensible reform: we should abolish the courts martial system in peacetime; all serious cases should go to a civil court and there should be a right to jury trial; there should be transparent and fair disciplinary procedures, not courts, in all other cases; and defendants should have the right to representation. In wartime, there should be a civil review after the event. That is my point of view, which I am happy to put to the Committee.