Summary Court Martial, Discipline and the Indian Army
Most militaries in the world have a special set of laws to regulate and enforce discipline in their ranks. The British have a standing military court and the US army has the proviso of a court-martial, which is convened to try any offender who is a member of the US armed forces.
The Indian army has 4 types of court martial’s namely the General Court Martial, District Court Martial, the Summary General Court Martial and lastly the Summary Court Martial. The last named does not form part of the trial and punishment procedure in the Indian Navy and Indian Air force and is exclusively an Indian army phenomena.
The Summary Court Martial (SCM) is peculiar to the Indian army. It flows from the Indian army act 1950, which is modeled on the Indian army act of 1911 during the days of the Raj.
The SCM has its roots from the colonial period and was specially enacted for the Indian army to allow British officers to control and punish native soldiers. Such a court martial does not exist in the British army. In India the Border Security Force and Indo Tibet Border police acts which are modeled on the 1950 Amy act have incorporated this feature in their laws.
A Summary Court Martial can be convened by any officer who is the commanding officer of a corps, regiment or unit. It draws its legal powers from section 120 of the Army Act 1950. It is applicable to all personnel who come under the jurisdiction of the unit of which the convening authority is the Commanding officer and are subject to the Indian army act 1950. A summary court consists of only one officer who will in all cases be the Commanding Officer. There will be no prosecutor or defending officer like in normal court martial’s. However 2 officers of the unit can attend the court, but they are mere observers and have no power or any role to play in the conduct of the court martial or sentencing of an accused. The Commanding Officer acts the part of the prosecutor and the accused has to defend himself. He can however be assisted by a friend.
A SCM can pass any sentence or punishment mentioned in the army act 1950, other than a sentence of death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. However in case the convening authority of a summary court martial holds the rank of major or below, the court cannot award a imprisonment of more that 3 months.
The decision of the court is final and there is no appeal. The sentence is however subject to confirmation by the Army Chief or the Army Commander of a command. The summary court martial is an important part of the judicial system in the Indian army and is used extensively. In the period 1999-2004 as per data available the Indian army conducted 995 summary courts martial’s.
Even the new Central Armed Forces Tribunal (CAFT) incorporated by the central government has no jurisdiction over a sentence passed by a Summary Court Martial(SCM)