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Orders To Soldiers (Obeyance)

Volume 527: debated on Monday 17 May 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for War the appropriate procedure to be adopted by an other rank in the Army who receives orders from a senior non-commissioned officer or commissioned officer to do an act which he deems to be illegal; and what steps are taken to inform the other rank of his rights and dailies in such circumstances.

Under military law, the duty of a soldier is to obey any order that is not unlawful. If the order is manifestly unlawful, the soldier is justified in questioning the order or in refusing to obey it. Otherwise, if the order requires immediate compliance, he should obey it and, if he thinks fit, complain afterwards; if the order does not necessitate immediate compliance, he can make a formal complaint in the interim period. The soldier does, however, refuse to obey any order at his peril; if he is brought to trial, it is no defence that he thought unlawful an order which is subsequently decided to be lawful.Since the giving of unlawful orders is of rare occurrence and it is obviously undesirable in a disciplined force to encourage the questioning of orders received, no instructions are given which might suggest to a soldier that he would be likely to receive unlawful orders. In accordance with Queen's Regulations, paragraph 531, the soldier is ordinarily instructed as to the purport of Sections 4 to 44 of the Army Act.