The legal proceedings for the members of the military, who are held liable for some serious criminal offences such as felonies is called as court martial. It is quite same as the court trial of a civilian but for the members of military, there has been a separate system for addressing the disputes of the military. In case of a less serious crime and for the breaches of the decorum of military a Non-Judicial punishment is given. Non-Judicial punishment is also known by other names under different services such as – Article 15, Captain’s mast or office hours. Its main purpose is to provide with the punishment for offences like reporting late on the duty, sleeping on watch or giving any false information.

Armed forces play a very crucial role in the country and cannot purvey the delays and adjournment that a civilian judicial system has. They have to maintain a uniformity, order and discipline within the military and in order to maintain that a prompt and foreseeable decisions are to be made. This helps the military to focus on national security. Also, there are some offences which are distinctive for military such as desertion, insubordination, or absence without leave, which makes it justified and a prerequisite to have a separate system for the military.

In Court-Martial, the punishment is given for the offences that are listed under the punitive Articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Uniform Code of Military Justice provides with three categories of court martial-

  • Summary court martial;
  • Special court martial and;
  • General court martial.


The Constitution of India provides for the rules administering the Indian Military. These rules have been provided under Article 33, which says that Parliament can modify the fundamental rights which are in relation to the military, para- military, police and analogous forces[1]. This article also provides with the restrictions on the fundamental rights which can exclusively be imposed by the Parliament, by law in order to maintain decorum and the duties can be discharged properly. Other two articles that are linked to the court martial under the Constitution of India are Article 136 and 227 which basically confines and reduces the locale of higher legal executive, over orders discoveries and sentences of court-military.


There are three types of court martial –

  • Summary Court Martial: In this type of court martial, there is no military judge or attorney instead one commissioned officer usually an O-3 and above[2], serves as a judge and jury. Summary court martial is basically for the offences which are considered as less serious. The commissioned officer analyzes the facts, legitimate point of reference, and condemning rules prior to issuing the decision. The witness can be cross-examined by the accused, he also has a right to call the witness and to produce the evidence to testify or even to remain silent. The punishment in a summary court martial is, up to 30 days confinement, 45 days of hard labor, restriction to a particular area for 60 days, one month of reduced pay, or reduction in rank. The military does not provide with free defense counsel, the accused can hire or can be represented by the attorney for the proceedings.
  • Special Court Martial: In this type of court martial, if an office is in a position of an accused and is being trialed, then also that officer cannot be set aside from his service, cannot be confined or lowered from his/her rank. It is of two types: – one is where there is a military judge, a prosecutor, defense counsel and jury, which is basically consists of four members. In the first type of special court martial, the accused elected is to be trialed by the military judge itself without any jury or the four member’s panel. The punishment in this type is for no more than six months confinement (or a lesser amount if the offenses have a lower maximum), forfeiture of pay for six months, and reduction in rank for an enlisted accused[3]. In the second type, the military judge on the order of a competent authority, has the jurisdiction over resolving the guilt or innocence of the accused but regardless of the offenses involved, a sentence by a special court-martial where the accused has the option of having a panel is limited to no more than twelve months confinement (or a lesser amount if the offenses have a lower maximum), forfeiture of pay, a bad-conduct discharge and reduction in rank (for enlisted personnel), and certain lesser punishments.[4]
  • General Court Martial: It is a type of court martial where the accused, who can be an officer or any enlisted member of the Uniform Code of Military justice (UCMJ) are tried under a felony court. It consists of a military judge, a panel of at least five members, where the accused can be tried by the military judge alone as per their request. The punishment given by this court can be anything including death penalty, if authorized.


The military is a large organized force which is well trained for the wars specially the land wars. They play a very crucial role in the country and all the actions need a very immediate action to maintain law and order. The Indian Judicial system is totally based upon the evidence and the facts, which while proving delays the time of justice and the military cannot afford to give that much time on determining the guilt or innocence of the accused. So, the military has a separate judicial system that the court martial to get speedy and predictable decisions. This separate judicial system is necessary to govern all the crimes as no one can commit a crime freely and arbitrarily without the fear of getting the punishment. It allows them to maintain the discipline, morale and keeps the military work effectively and efficiently.

Author’s Name: Jiya Beniwal (University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University)

[1] Narender Kumar, Constitutional Law Of India (10th edn, Allahabad Law Agency 1997).

[2] ‘The Court Martial Process’ (FindLaw, 2022) <  > accessed 11 March 2022.

[3] ‘Types Of Military Court-Martial | Karns Law Firm’ (

 < > accessed 12 March 2022.

[4] Supra note 3.

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