Last week, military judges from several Commonwealth countries met at Marlborough House for a formal dinner and presentation to discuss strategies for transforming military justice systems across the Commonwealth to guarantee the proper administration of justice, the due process of law and equal access to justice.
Justice and the rule of law are central to the Commonwealth Charter, which is a commitment of all Commonwealth members. Military courts, like all other courts, play a key role in protecting public order and welfare. Despite the military having a separate body of rules, military justice systems should be an integral part of the general judicial system, and that system must ensure the proper administration of justice.
Speaking at the event, Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland said:
“The Commonwealth Secretariat has a long history of promoting access to justice and building the institutional capacity of justice systems. For decades, the Secretariat has provided technical assistance to train judges, draft legislation, adopt technology and more. Military Justice is evolving, with reforms in recent years within and beyond the Commonwealth. Our objective is to support the transformation of military justice systems across the Commonwealth to ensure that they reflect international norms and standards, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law to improve access to justice and delivery of justice which of course is the ultimate goal of the law.”
Hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform (OCCJR), the event offered an opportunity for OCCJR to present their current military justice reform work in the Caribbean and their vision for a larger pan-Commonwealth military justice transformation project to important players in the military justice field including several Judge Advocate Generals.
The objectives of the pan-Commonwealth project include:
- Establishing a working group of Judge Advocates General or their equivalents
- Organising pan-Commonwealth military justice fora for Judge Advocates General and other experts; and
- Drafting Commonwealth Model Military Justice Principles
Speaking about the importance of the Military Justice Transformation Project, Francisca Pretorius, Head of OCCJR said:
“The Commonwealth Secretariat is uniquely positioned to implement this project, and to become the preferred partner for military justice reform in the Commonwealth because Commonwealth member countries’ legal systems are either founded on English common law or the common law system is applied with other legal systems, such as civil and/or customary law. Through this common foundation, the Commonwealth can facilitate the sharing of experience, information, and knowledge.”
As part of the event, many attendees committed to supporting the project and going forward, the OCCJR team will be relying on their expertise to draft model laws for the Caribbean and to roll out the larger pan-Commonwealth project.
- Rena Gashumba Communications Adviser, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
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