Federal Auditor General blasts military justice

The Canadian Armed Forces’ failure to administer the military justice system efficiently has led to 10 court-martial cases to have been dropped since January 2016, revealed a damning report by the federal auditor general.

The military justice system is plagued by persistent and unnecessary delays as well as by “systemic weaknesses” that have compromised the timely and efficient resolution of cases, according to Michael Ferguson, the auditor general. What’s more, the Canadian Forces has known about the problems for at least a decade “but failed to correct them.”

“In our opinion, it often took too long to decide whether charges should be laid and to refer cases to prosecutors,” said the auditor’s report. “Prosecutors did not meet their time standards for making decisions to proceed to court martial. Where they did proceed, it took too long to schedule the court martial.”

The auditor general found that in fiscal 2016–17, a court martial dismissed charges in one case because of delay, and delay was a reason why military prosecutors decided not to proceed to trial in an additional nine cases. Moreover, the auditor general found that commanding officers did not immediately inform Defence Counsel Services of the accused’s request for defence counsel, and prosecutors did not provide the accused with all relevant information for their defence as soon as was practical.

The auditor general urges the Canadian Armed Forces to review its military justice processes to identify the causes of delays and to implement corrective measures to reduce them. The auditor general also recommends that the Canadian Armed Forces

  • define and communicate time standards for every phase of the military justice process and ensure there is a process for tracking and enforcing them.
  • should establish formal communication processes to ensure that the Military Police, the Director of Military Prosecutions, the Judge Advocate General’s legal officers, and the military units receive the information that they need to carry out their duties and functions in a timely manner.
  • define and communicate expectations for the timely disclosure of all relevant information to members charged with an offence.
  • the Office of the Judge Advocate General, which was chastised for failing to provide effective oversight of the military justice system, should regularly assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the military justice system and correct any identified weaknesses.

The auditor general report comes on the heels after the federal government unveiled proposed legislation aimed at streamlining parts of the military justice system.

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