The long-awaited appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff is a milestone in India’s military journey. The inception of the position of the CDS and the overall concept of ‘jointness’, raises a host of ancillary issues — some large and some small.
One of the most important ones concerns the administration of justice in the Indian defence services. The opportunity presents itself for deep reform on this aspect and because these opportunities come along fairly rarely, the establishment must seize this opportunity and make the most of it.
We offer a few talking points and suggestions.
A single disciplinary code
To begin, it is time to abandon the separate disciplinary codes for defence services. Without calling into question the value of esprit de corps and loyalty to one’s own branch, it is impossible to justify having separate and inevitably non-uniform disciplinary codes which, in most part, constitute criminal laws, especially in the era of joint operability.
The separate codes currently in force are a holdover from the British era. Other countries whose legal systems have common law roots have moved in the direction of a single disciplinary system. The United States made the change in 1951, when the Uniform Code of Military Justice superseded the Articles of War (for the Army and Air Force), the Articles for the Government of the Navy (for the Navy and Marine Corps), and the Disciplinary Laws of the Coast Guard. Australia did the same in 1982, and Canada in 1950.
Tellingly, the United Kingdom itself moved to a single statute, the Armed Forces Act, in 2006. There might be some churning at the beginning with progressive reform but experience teaches that national military justice systems self-adjust in time.