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Accused Officers (Procedure)

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that there is often an interval of between six weeks and three months between the time an officer is charged with an offence under the Army Act and the time when he is brought to trial by a court-martial, and that a further considerable interval may elapse before the finding of the court is promulgated; and will he do something to expedite this procedure?

Convening officers are aware of the need for reducing time spent in arrest as far as possible and cases in which there seems to have been undue delay are investigated.In many cases, particularly those involving financial irregularities, considerable investigations and correspondence are usually necessary before the accused can be brought to trial. New offences may come to light in course of these investigations and these take up more time. Even so, an examination of 50 recent cases of courts-martial shows the average interval between arrest and trial to have been less than six weeks. It has been impossible to devise a change in the present procedure which would shorten the interval without prejudicing the efficient administration of justice. Army commanders have to consider every court-martial of an officer before confirming it, and in view of the heavy demands on their time I do not consider that the interval between the trial and the promulgation of its findings can be greatly expedited.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider an alteration in the practice whereby an officer awaiting trial must always be accompanied by a brother officer during every hour of the day and night, taking up the time of officers who might be engaged on very much more important duties?

I will consider that, without, however, holding out a promise of any kind.