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Service Justice System

Volume 683: debated on Thursday 12 November 2020

I am today informing the House that, after further and full consideration of an earlier decision announced in February 2020 in response to the service justice system (SJS) review, I have taken a decision to maintain jurisdictional concurrency when dealing with cases of murder, manslaughter and rape when committed by service personnel in the UK.

Currently, decisions on which jurisdiction should deal with criminal offences in the UK by service personnel are made by the SJS and civilian justice system (CJS) policing and prosecutorial authorities on a case-by-case basis. My intent is to seek views on what improvements can be made to the protocols which guide those decisions and which have developed since Parliament last expressed its view on this subject.

In considering the recommendations made by the service justice system review, I have come to the conclusion that, having agreed to take forward 79 other recommendations, including assurance around the quality of investigations, the SJS is capable of dealing with these offences when they occur in the UK, as well as overseas. The service justice system review strongly supported the continued existence of the SJS and sets out a sound roadmap for its future.

I am not, therefore, content to accept the first recommendation in the review which would undermine the principle of concurrency between the SJS and CJS which is set out in the current legislation. While there will not be a presumption that either system takes primacy over the other, I plan to retain the current role of the Director of Public Prosecutions (in relation to cases in England and Wales) of having the final say of where a case is tried in the unlikely event of disagreement about where the case should be handled.

In light of this decision, my Department will lead an exercise with SJS and CJS policing and prosecutorial authorities to revise all current guidance around jurisdiction for criminal offending by service personnel in the UK. That exercise will include public engagement on factors to be considered relevant in guiding the case-by-case allocation decisions. Parliament will have an opportunity to consider these matters when parliamentary time allows, and I intend to bring forward proposals to place the arrangements for allocating cases between the SJS and CJS on a statutory basis.

My Department will be engaging with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland to consider the corresponding arrangements that should exist there.