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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Naval courts martial procedure

Ron Clifton

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Hello all

I recently bought a book on naval courts martial, published in 1935, from which I noted several differences between RN and Army/RAF practice:

1. There seems to be only one type of naval CM, unlike the GCM/DCM/FGCM of Army use.

2. Once the convening officer has selected a President, the composition of the court is automatic according to seniority, subject to certain exceptions and to the accused's right to challenge.

3. The President must be at least a Captain.

4. The judge advocate is usually an officer of the Accountancy Branch, whose members are trained in naval law.

5. The minimum number of court members was five, including the President.

6. The captain of the accused's ship acted as prosecutor, even though he might be senior in rank to all members of the court.

Can anyone confirm whether these conditions also applied to the Royal Navy in 1914, and whether there were any changes during the war?

Thanks for any help you can give.


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There are some details here of interest, including

"the 1866 Naval Discipline Act was to remain in force for nearly 100 years, being replaced by the 1957 Naval Discipline Act."

See http://www.pdavis.nl/NDA.htm

The Courts Martial details of the 1866 act appear in Part IV here


There were some minor changes in 1884 which are detailed here http://www.pdavis.nl/NDA1884.htm

A quick look at Hansard seems to confirm the general remark above that these acts remained in force for some considerable time



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An interesting 1914 example would be the case of Rear Admiral Troubridge who was tried under the Naval Discipline Act

The President of the Court was Admiral Sir George L'C Egerton

Sitting with him were Vice Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, three rear admirals and four captains

The Paymaster-in-Chief F J Krabbé acted in his capacity as Deputy Judge-Advocate of the Fleet

The prosecutor was Rear Admiral Sydney Freemantle

and for the defence (the Accused's Friend) appeared Mr Leslie Scott KC, MP.

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Re your - whether there were any changes during the war?

see http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/B7964294-913F-4B60-A375-8E401660C7C9/0/ServiceHistories.pdf

In 1914, disciplinary courts were introduced for the trial of officers, for certain relatively minor offences committed in wartime only. The President was to be a Commander, with two other officers as members and the original instruction was that one of the members was to be of the same rank as the accused. These courts follow a modified court-martial procedure.

In 1915, striking a superior officer became no longer a capital offence, and could therefore be tried summarily; in 1917, suspended sentences could be awarded.

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Hello michaeldr

Many thanks for your very comprehensive replies. Looking at Section 58 of the 1866 Act, the only difference I spotted was exactly the change introduced by the 1884 Act (two ships to be present, rather than three).

Incidentally the book I mentioned was written by a Paymaster-Commander Duckworth, and he mentions that the text has been read and commented upon by the Deputy Judge-Advocate of the Fleet - none other than F J Krabbe!

It is interesting (but perhaps not surprising) that a modified version was introduced during the war.

Incidentally I noticed from Section 59 that courts-martial must be held aboard one of HM Ships. I wonder if this might be part of the reason why shore establishments are, in effect, commissioned as ships?


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