COURT-MARTIAL, a tribunal occa sionally instituted for the purpose of try ing military and naval men for the com mission of offences affecting discipline in either of those branches of the public service.
Courts for the trial of rebels by martial law appear to have early existed in this country ; and in the time of Henry VIII. the Marshal of England held one regu larly for the trial of causes connected with military discipline. In the reigns of Elizabeth and her successor, those courts of war, as they were called, were superintended not by the marshal, but by a president chosen for the purpose. This president was probably a general or field officer, but captains of companies were allowed to sit as members. The colonel of each regiment was charged with the duty of preparing the evidence relating to offences which fell under his cognizance, and of bringin* it before the court. But courts-martial in their present form were instituted in the reign of James II.; and in the ordinances of war published in 1686 they are distinguished as general or regimental. Subsequently to the revolu tion, their powers have been expressly regulated by parliament, and are fully detailed in what is called the Mutiny Act, which is revised and renewed every year. Naval courts-martial are regulated by the statute 22 Geo. H. c. 33.
General courts-martial are assembled ender the authority of the king, or of an officer having the chief command within any part of his majesty's dominions to whom such authority may be delegated. Regimental courts-martial are held by the appointment of the commanding officer of the regiment. The East India Com pany's Mutiny Act empowers the govern or-general in council, and the governor in council, at the presidencies of Fort William, Fort St. George, and Bombay, and at St. Helena, to appoint general courts-martial, or to authorize any mili tary man not below the rank of a field officer to do so. What are called detach ment courts-martial may be either general or regimental, and their appellation is derived from the nature of the command with which the officer convening the court is invested.
The chief crimes of which a general court-martial takes cognizance are mutiny, abandonment of a fortress, post, or guard committed to the charge of an officer or soldier, disobedience of orders, and deser tion : these crimes, if proved to their greatest extent, are punishable with death ; and the penalty extends to any military man, being present, who does not use his best endeavours to prevent them. In
desertion is included the fact of enlisting in any regiment without having had a regular discharge from that in which the offender may have last served. The prac tice of sending challenges between com missioned officers is punished with cash iering; between non-commissioned officers and privates, with corporal punishment : and, in all cases, seconds and accessories are held to be equally guilty with the principals. Self-mutilation, theft, making false returns of stores, and neglect of ordinary duty, in non-commissioned offi cers and privates, are usually punished by the infliction of a certain number of lashes, not exceeding one thousand ; and men of the former class may, in addition to other punishments, be suspended, or degraded to the ranks. There are many offences which might tend to the subversion of discipline, but which are hardly capable of being precisely defined, as immorali 1 ties, and behaving in a manner unbe coming an officer and a gentleman ; of these the courts-martial take cognizance, and on conviction the offender may be dismissed from the service. At home, military men are not, in general, amena ble to courts-martial for civil offences ; but abroad, where there may be no civil courts, the case is different The provisions of the Mutiny Act affect not only the cavalry and infantry of the regular army, but extend to the officers and privates in the corps of artillery, engineers, and marines ; to all troops in the employment of the East India Com pany, or serving in the colonies ; to the militia during the time that it is assem bled and being trained ; and, lastly, to the yeomanry and volunteer corps. All are subject, without distinction, to trial and punishment by courts-martial.