Canada’s Military Courts

I was recently introduced to one of Canada’s Military Judges, learning that there are only four such judicial officers, which made me realize how little I know not simply about military law but also about the very structure of the military justice system. I suspect that many, if not most, of our readers are equally unaware of this structure, so I thought I’d provide a few links for the curious to follow.

For an overview, look at the Military Law and Military Justice pages of the Judge Advocate General’s website. As well, there is a clear and well written overview of Military Law on the site of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada, where you’ll also find a helpful bibliography.

The tribunal structure consists of two levels. The trial level is a court martial. From the site of the Chief Military Judge:

The Court Martial Administrator who acts under the general supervision of the Chief Military Judge, convenes courts martial in respect of charges that have been preferred by the Director of Military Prosecutions. In the case of General Courts Martial, the Court Martial Administrator appoints their members.

As I mentioned above, there are but four Military Judges, and I’m not clear whether it is required that one of these preside over every court martial, or whether this scarce resource is reserved for special courts martial. Given that there have been just over thirty courts martial this year, it is possible, I suppose, that four judges would be enough.

Decisions of Courts Martial are available online (and, so, ought to be made available via CanLII, too, I think).

The second level of court is the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada, which seconds its bench from members of high courts across the country. Curiously, perhaps, given the small number of courts martial, there are well over thirty of these appeal judges. Appeal from the CMAC lies to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Decisions of the CMAC, of which there have been three thus far in 2009, are also available online.


  1. Hello Simon!

    The low number of courts martial per year is indicative that most offences are tried by summary trials (before Commanding Officers) as opposed to courts martial.

    A military judge is always appointed to each court martial, but some courts martial also include a panel, which is roughly the equivalent of a jury in civilan criminal trials (but not the same). When I was in the Canadian Forces most courts martial were tried before Military Judge alone – called a “Standing Court Martial”.


  2. Case reporting for Canadian courts martial and appeals can be found in the loose-leaf publication:

    Chris Madsen, Military Law and Operations (Aurora, ONT: Canada Law Book, 2008-).