Media Release - 16/06/05 - Report into the effectiveness of Australia's military justice system

Effectiveness of Australia's military justice system

Media Release - 16/06/05 - Report into the effectiveness of Australia's military justice system

Summary of key issues

The evidence before the Committee ranged across many aspects of the military justice system and covered both disciplinary and administrative processes. This preface contains a summary of the key aspects of the report.

Australia's military justice system

Despite several attempts to reform the military justice system, Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel continue to operate under a system that, for too many, is seemingly incapable of effectively addressing its own weaknesses. This inquiry has received evidence detailing flawed investigations, prosecutions, tribunal structures and administrative procedures.

A decade of rolling inquiries has not met with the broad-based change required to protect the rights of Service personnel. The committee considers that major change is required to ensure independence and impartiality in the military justice system and believes it is time to consider another approach to military justice.

The Disciplinary System

The committee considers that establishing an independent Permanent Military Court, staffed by independently appointed judges possessing extensive civilian and military experience, would extend and protect a Service member's inherent rights and freedoms, leading to impartial, rigorous and fair outcomes.

The committee considers that reform is also needed to impart greater independence and impartiality into summary proceedings. Summary proceedings affect the highest proportion of military personnel. The current system for prosecuting summary offences, however, suffers from a greater lack of independence than courts martial and Defence Force Magistrate processes. The committee therefore recommends an expansion of the right to elect trial by court martial before the permanent military court, and the introduction of the right to appeal summary decisions before the independent permanent military court.

The inadequacies of the disciplinary process have important consequences for the mental health and well-being of service members, their families and friends. Evidence to the committee illustrates that the stresses placed on individuals under investigation in many cases appear to have had longer term effects, including loss of confidence, loss of employment, suicidal thoughts, attempted and actual suicide. These effects are unacceptable.

The Administrative system

The very fact that two young soldiers at Singleton were not prepared to pursue their right to make a complaint about cruel and abusive treatment, and that the wrongdoing came to light only through the determined efforts of their parents, speaks volumes about the inadequacies of the administrative system. They were not alone in their experiences. This failure to expose such abuse means the system stumbles at its most elementary stage—the reporting of wrongdoing.

The committee also found the next stage in the administrative system—investigations—seriously flawed. There were alarming lapses in procedural fairness: failure to inform members about allegations made about them, failure to provide all relevant information supporting an allegation, and breaches of confidentiality. Indeed, the committee heard numerous accounts of members suffering unnecessary hardships due to violations of their fundamental rights.

Poorly trained and on occasion incompetent investigating officers further undermined the effectiveness of administrative investigations. The committee found that missing or misplaced documentation, poor record keeping, the withholding of information, lack of support in processing a complaint and investigating officers who lack the necessary skills, experience or training to conduct a competent inquiry, contributed to unnecessary delays and distress. Many of those subject to allegations have endured long periods of uncertainty and anxiety.

Conflict of interest and the lack of independence of the investigator and the decision-maker was one of the most corrosive influences eroding the principles of natural justice and one of the most commonly cited concerns. Many witnesses called for an independent adjudicator so that a neutral and unbiased investigation could take place free from contamination by self-interest or third party influence.

A number of witnesses to this inquiry attributed the onset or aggravation of health problems, particularly psychological, to the difficulties they encountered with the military justice system. Others spoke of a work place where safe and responsible work practices were not always promoted and which, in some instances, placed the physical or psychological well-being of ADF personnel at risk.

The committee made the following recommendations which are divided into two parts covering the disciplinary system and administrative system. The two parts are further divided into major recommendations and other recommendations. The major recommendations are intended to make comprehensive reforms of the military justice system.


The committee has made a number of major recommendations designed to restructure Australia's military justice system giving particular emphasis to ensuring the objectivity and independence of disciplinary processes and tribunals and administrative investigations and decision making. It has also made a number of additional recommendations intended to improve other aspects of the military justice system concerned mainly with raising the standards of investigations and decision making taken in the chain of command.

The discipline system

The major disciplinary recommendations provide for the referral of all civilian equivalent and Jervis Bay Territory Offences to the civilian authorities. The additional recommendations provide for the reform of current structures, in order to protect service personnel's rights in the event that the civilian authorities refer criminal activity back to the military for prosecution. The additional recommendations cover the prosecution, defence and adjudication functions, recommending the creation of a Director of Military Prosecutions, Director of Defence Counsel Service and a new tribunal system. All recommendations are based on the premise that the prosecution, defence and adjudication functions should be conducted completely independent of the ADF.

Major recommendations

Recommendation 1

3.119   The committee recommends that all suspected criminal activity in Australia be referred to the appropriate State/Territory civilian police for investigation and prosecution before the civilian courts.

Recommendation 2

3.121     The committee recommends that the investigation of all suspected criminal activity committed outside Australia be conducted by the Australian Federal Police.

Additional recommendations

Recommendation 3

3.124    The committee recommends that Service police should only investigate a suspected offence in the first instance where there is no equivalent offence in the civilian criminal law.

Recommendation 4

3.125    The committee recommends that, where the civilian police do not pursue a matter, current arrangements for referral back to the service police should be retained. The service police should only pursue a matter where proceedings under the DFDA can reasonably be regarded as substantially serving the purpose of maintaining or enforcing service discipline.

Recommendation 5

3.130    The committee recommends that the ADF increase the capacity of the Service police to perform their investigative function by:

1.2       Fully implementing the recommendations contained in the Ernst & Young Report;

1.3       Encouraging military personnel secondments and exchanges with civilian police authorities;

1.4       Undertaking a reserve recruitment drive to attract civilian police into the Defence Forces;

1.5       Increasing participation in civilian investigative training courses; and

1.6       Designing clearer career paths and development goals for military police personnel

Recommendation 6

3.134    The committee recommends that the ADF conduct a tri-service audit of current military police staffing, equipment, training and resources to determine the current capacity of the criminal investigations services. This audit should be conducted in conjunction with a scoping exercise to examine the benefit of creating a tri-service criminal investigation unit.

Recommendation 7

4.44      The committee recommends that all decisions to initiate prosecutions for civilian equivalent and Jervis Bay Territory offences should be referred to civilian prosecuting authorities.

Recommendation 8

4.45      The committee recommends that the Director of Military Prosecutions should only initiate a prosecution in the first instance where there is no equivalent or relevant offence in the civilian criminal law. Where a case is referred to the Director of Military Prosecutions, an explanatory statement should be provided explaining the disciplinary purpose served by pursuing the charge.

Recommendation 9

4.46      The committee recommends that the Director of Military Prosecutions should only initiate prosecutions for other offences where the civilian prosecuting authorities do not pursue a matter. The Director of Military Prosecutions should only pursue a matter where proceedings under the DFDA can reasonably be regarded as substantially serving the purpose of maintaining or enforcing Service discipline.

Recommendation 10

4.47      The committee recommends that the Government legislate as soon as possible to create the statutorily independent Office of Director of Military Prosecutions.

Recommendation 11

4.48      The committee recommends that the ADF conduct a review of the resources assigned to the Office of the Director of Military Prosecutions to ensure it can fulfil its advice and advocacy functions and activities.

Recommendation 12

4.49      The committee recommends that the ADF review the training requirements for the Permanent Legal Officers assigned to the Office of the Director of Military Prosecutions, emphasising adequate exposure to civilian courtroom forensic experience.

Recommendation 13

4.50    The committee recommends that the ADF act to raise awareness and the profile of the Office of the Director of Military Prosecutions within Army, Navy and Air Force.

Recommendation 14

4.51      The committee recommends that the Director of Military Prosecutions be appointed at one star rank.

Recommendation 15

4.52    The committee recommends the remuneration of the Director of Military Prosecutions be adjusted to be commensurate with the professional experience required and prosecutorial function exercised by the office-holder.

Recommendation 16

4.75    The committee recommends that all Permanent Legal Officers be required to hold current practicing certificates.

Recommendation 17

4.76      The committee recommends that the ADF establish a Director of Defence Counsel Services.

Recommendation 18

5.94      The committee recommends the Government amend the DFDA to create a Permanent Military Court capable of trying offences under the DFDA currently tried at the Court Martial or Defence Force Magistrate Level.

Recommendation 19

5.95      The Permanent Military Court to be created in accordance with Chapter III of the Commonwealth Constitution to ensure its independence and impartiality.

1.7       Judges should be appointed by the Governor-General in Council;

1.8       Judges should have tenure until retirement age.

Recommendation 20

5.97      The committee recommends that Judges appointed to the Permanent Military Court should be required to have a minimum of five years recent experience in civilian courts at the time of appointment.

Recommendation 21

5.100    The committee recommends that the bench of the Permanent Military Court include judges whose experience combines both civilian legal and military practice.

Recommendation 22

5.104    The committee recommends the introduction of a right to elect trial by court martial before the Permanent Military Court for summary offences.

Recommendation 23

5.106    The committee recommends the introduction of a right of appeal from summary authorities to the Permanent Military Court.

The administrative system

This report has also identified serious problems with the administrative component of the military justice system. The problems emerge at the very earliest stage of reporting a complaint or lodging a grievance and carry through into the final stages of review or appeal. The problems are not new—they have dogged the system for many years—nor are they confined to specific ranks or areas of the Forces. Young recruits and senior officers, female and male members across the three services engaged in the full range of military activities have given evidence before the committee raising their concerns about the military justice system.

The committee accepts that, on face value, there is 'a system of internal checks and balances, of review and counter review'. The overall lack of rigour to adhere to the rules, regulations and written guidelines, the inadequate training of investigators, the potential and real conflicts of interest, the failure to protect the most basic rights of those caught up in the system and the inordinate delays in the system rob it of its very integrity. The committee believes that measures must be taken to build greater confidence in the system and most importantly to combat the perception that the system is corrupted by its lack of independence. The committee is recommending a major restructuring of the administrative system, in particular the establishment of a statutorily independent grievance review board.

Major recommendations

Recommendation 29

11.67    The committee makes the following recommendations—

  1. The committee recommends that:
  2. The committee recommends that this report
  3. The committee recommends that in drafting legislation to establish the ADFARB, the Government give close attention to the Canadian National Defence Act and the rules of procedures governing the Canadian Forces Grievance Board with a view to using these instruments as a model for the ADFARB. In particular, the committee recommends that the conflict of interest rules of procedure be adopted. They would require:
  4. The committee further recommends that to prevent delays in the grievance process, the ADF impose a deadline of 12 months on processing a redress of grievance from the date it is initially lodged until it is finally resolved by the proposed ADFARB. It is to provide reasons for any delays in its annual report.
  5. The committee also recommends that the powers conferred on the ADFARB be similar to those conferred on the CFGB. In particular:
  6. The committee recommends that the ADFARB take responsibility for and continue the work of the IGADF including:
  7. To address a number of problems identified in administrative inquiries at the unit level—notably conflict of interest and fear of reprisal for reporting a wrongdoing or giving evidence to an inquiry—the committee recommends that the ADFARB receive reports and complaints directly from ADF members where:
  8. The committee further recommends that an independent review into the performance of the ADFARB and the effectiveness of its role in the military justice system be undertaken within four years of its establishment.  

Recommendation 34

12.120  The committee recommends that:

Additional recommendations

Recommendation 24

7.98      In line with Australian Standard AS 8004–203, Whistleblower Protection Programs for Entities, the committee recommends that:

Recommendation 25

7.103    The committee recommends that, in its Annual Report, the Department of Defence include a separate and discrete section on matters dealing with the reporting of wrongdoing in the ADF. This section to provide statistics on such reporting including a discussion on the possible under reporting of unacceptable behaviour. The purpose is to provide the public, members of the ADF and parliamentarians with sufficient information to obtain an accurate appreciation of the effectiveness of the reporting system in the ADF.

Recommendation 26

8.12      The committee recommends that the Defence (Inquiries) Manual include at paragraph 2.4 a statement that quick assessments while mandatory are not to replace administrative inquiries.

Recommendation 27

8.78      The committee recommends that the language in the Administrative Inquiries Manual be amended so that it is more direct and clear in its advice on the selection of an investigating officer.

Recommendation 28

8.81      The committee recommends that the following proposals be considered to enhance transparency and accountability in the appointment of investigating officers:

1.9       Before an inquiry commences, the investigating officer be required to produce a written statement of independence which discloses professional and personal relationships with those subject to the inquiry and with the complainant. The statement would also disclose any circumstances which would make it difficult for the investigating officer to act impartially. This statement to be provided to the appointing authority, the complainant and other persons known to be involved in the inquiry.

1.10      A provision to be included in the Manual that would allow a person involved in the inquiry process to lodge with the investigating officer and the appointing officer an objection to the investigating officer on the grounds of a conflict of interest and for these objections to be acknowledged and included in the investigating officer's report.

1.11      The investigating officer be required to make known to the appointing authority any potential conflict of interest that emerges during the course of the inquiry and to withdraw from the investigation.

1.12      The investigating officer's report to include his or her statement of independence and any record of objections raised about his or her appointment and for this section of the report to be made available to all participants in the inquiry.

Recommendation 30

11.69    The committee recommends that the Government provide funds as a matter of urgency for the establishment of a task force to start work immediately on finalising grievances that have been outstanding for over 12 months.

Recommendation 31

12.30    The committee recommends that the language used in paragraphs 7.56 of the Defence (Inquiry) Manual be amended so that the action becomes mandatory.

Recommendation 32

12.32    Similarly, the committee recommends that the wording of paragraph 7.49 be rephrased to reflect the requirement that a member who comes before the Board late in the proceedings will be allowed a reasonable opportunity to familiarise themselves with the evidence that has already been given.

Recommendation 33

12.44    The committee recommends that the wording of Defence (Inquiry) Regulation 33 be amended to ensure that a person who may be affected by an inquiry conducted by a Board of Inquiry will be authorized to appear before the Board and will have the right to appoint a legal practitioner to represent them.

12.45    Further that a regulation be promulgated by the ADF that a person who has died as a result of an incident under investigation by a BOI will be entitled to legal representation.

Recommendation 35

13.19     Building on the report by the Australian Law Reform Commission, Principled Regulation: Federal Civil and Administrative Penalties in Federal Jurisdiction, the committee recommends that the ADF commission a similar review of its disciplinary and administrative systems.

Recommendation 36

13.27    The committee recommends that the committee's proposal for a review of the offences and penalties under the Australian military justice system also include in that review the matter of double jeopardy.

Recommendation 37

13.29    The committee recommends that the ADF submit an annual report to the Parliament outlining (but not limited to):

  1. The implementation and effectiveness of reforms to the military justice system, either in light of the recommendations of this report or via other initiatives.
  2. The workload and effectiveness of various bodies within the military justice system, such as but not limited to;

Recommendation 38

14.46    To ensure that the further development and implementation of measures designed to improve the care and control and rights of minors in the cadets are consistent with the highest standards, the committee suggests that the ADF commission an expert in the human rights of children to monitor and advise the ADF on its training and education programs dealing with cadets.

Recommendation 39

14.62    The committee recommends that the ADF take steps immediately to draft and make regulations dealing with the Australian Defence Force Cadets to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of Defence and cadet staff are clearly defined.

Recommendation 40

14.63  The committee recommends that further resources be allocated to the Australian Defence Force Cadets to provide for an increased number of full-time, fully remunerated administrative positions across all three cadet organisations. These positions could provide a combination of coordinated administrative and complaint handling support.

Standards Australia, Australian Standard AS 8004–2003, paras 2.4.3 and 2.4.4.

For further information, contact:

Committee Secretary
Senate Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: +61 2 6277 3535
Fax: +61 2 6277 5818