Summary Report on Military Justice: Review of the summary trial system

17/12/2019 Evaluations, Publication

This review of the New Zealand Defence Force Summary Trial System considered whether the system effectively maintains discipline while also ensuring fairness to victims and those charged with offences.

Summary Report on Military Justice: Review of the summary trial system
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17 Dec 2019

The summary trial system is the primary means by which discipline is achieved in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). The summary trial is the first stage of the military justice system and is run by military personnel.

The summary trial has been operating in its current form since 2009, after being established by a 2007 amendment to the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971 (AFDA). This is the first review of the system since it was introduced ten years ago.

The review found that overall the summary trial system is working reasonably well, and works best for the middle range of offences (such as disobeying a lawful command and avoidance of duty). As outlined in the executive summary of the report, the review identified a number of problems at the lower and higher ends of the offence spectrum, including:

  • fairness constraints for victims and defendants in respect of serious offences
  • the system being too complex and time-consuming for minor offences
  • a lack of expertise to deal with serious criminal offences
  • a lack of flexibility in the system
  • delays affecting fairness
  • the need to improve the level of skill of those preparing preliminary investigations or running trials
  • the need to further enhance fairness by moving the system further into alignment with international approaches to the application of human rights, and
  • issues in relation to search powers under the AFDA.

The review put forward 17 recommendations, each accompanied by a summary detailing the rationale behind the recommendation. At a high-level, the recommendations address:

  • the need to review and amend certain provisions of the AFDA
  • various issues in the dealing of minor and serious offences
  • safeguards when imposing detention
  • extending election rights
  • the independence of disciplinary officers
  • the use of compensation orders
  • the application of military law to those who are under 18 years of age
  • improving reporting and ownership of the system by senior command, and
  • improving guidance, communication and reporting in summary trials.