23 August 2009

Defence responds to report of independent review of the reformed Australian military justice system; ADF adopts 45 of 49 recommendations

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, RAAF, Chief of the Australian Defence Force, released Defence's response to the Report of the Independent Review on the Health of the Reformed Military Justice System.

"I can announce that 45 of the recommendations have been unanimously agreed in whole, in part or in principle. Many are already in the process of being implemented," said Houston in a press release issued Friday afternoon. "The findings of the Independent Review on the Health of the Reformed Military Justice System reinforce Defence's commitment to delivering impartial, rigorous and fair military justice outcomes."

The report, which can be found here , made 49 recommendations for improvements to the military justice system. ADF's response can be found here. Four recommendations were not agreed to. Recommendation 4 proposed the establishment of a senior position to oversee the ADF Investigative Service, or ADFIS, project implementation. That recommendation has become moot due to the establishment of the ADFIS Governance Board and changed command arrangements for ADFIS.

It was proposed, as Recommendation 20, that the Director of Military Prosecutions, or DMP, would discontinue the practice of personally undertaking prosecutions. The DMP has the same statutory right of apprearance under the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 as civilian state and territory DMP counterparts. This recommendation was rejected by ADF because it was considered to not allow the DMP to appear in matter before the Australian Military Court and would undermine the role of the DMP.

Recommendation 26, proposed an amendment to the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982, so that a stay of execution of punishments affecting personal liberty imposed by summary authority would not be automatic upon notification of an appeal, which is the current procedure. There was no evidence at this time that vexatious appeals were being lodged to avoid the automatic imposition of stays. Thus ADF concluded that the recommendation was premature. The proposal will be revisited in one year.

The last rejected proposal, Recommendation 43, was a recommendation to transfer administrative support for the conduct of the CDF Commissions of Inquiries ot the Inspector General of the ADF. The proposal was rejected as it was considered inappropriate for the IG, as the internal watchdog for military justice, to become responsible for the administration of Commissions of Inquiry.

Houston said a comprehensive Implementation Plan had been devised, providing steps for progression for further military justice reforms over the next three years. "The Implementation Plan contains the organisational priorities for military justice action and reform int he period leading up to an the next independent external review within the next 3 - 5 years," Houston said. The Implementation Plan can be found here.

"A great deal of work has been done over the last 4 years to improve the military justice system and a great deal of work remains to be done over the next 3 years," said Houston.

Some of the highlights of the agreed proposals include the following:
  • establish a service police officer career model that allows personnel to rotate in and out of ADFIS (Recommendation 5)
  • amend the Discipline Officer scheme to allow personnel to the rank of Warrant Officer to be appointed as Discipline Officers (Recommendation 8)
  • amend the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 to apply a single scale of punishments applicable across all ranks, including "Extra Duties" (Recommendation 10)
  • the establishment of a new Australian Military Court facility in Canberra (Recommendation 21)
  • expanding the available pool of potential jurors by lowering the minimum rank for panel members to Corporal and Petty Officer (Recommendation 23)
  • the rules of evidence in the Australian Military Court will be the same rules of evidence as in the Federal Court of Australia (Recommendation 27)
  • the establishment of a "Discipline Coordination and Efficiency Committee" (Recommendation 28)
  • expand the Defence Force Discipline Appeals Tribunal to six members and allow a single member to hear and determine sentencing appeals for Class 2 and 3 offences or to refer an appeal to the full tribunal for determination (Recommendation 32)
  • promulgate a 90 day benchmark for the referral of Redress of Grievance to the Chief of the Defence Force and Service Chiefs (Recommendation 39)
  • amend the Defence (Inquiry) Regulations and Defence Act to provide Inquiry Officers the requisite powers and protections to compel ADF Reserve personnel and Defence APS staff to participate in inquiries (Recommendation 42)
  • provide on recruitment, a pamphlet highlighting DFDA and Performance Appraisal System in a disciplined military force, and emphasising the rights and responsibilities of individuals (Recommendation 45)

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