The Evolution and Reform of Summary Trials in Canadian Military Justice

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Lévesque, Pascal
Military Justice , Summary Trial , Law Reform , Military Law , Legal History , Comparative Law , Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms , Constitutionality
There is a place where a Canadian citizen can be sent to 30 days detention, by someone who is not a judge, without being represented by counsel, and without having a meaningful right to appeal. It is the summary trial system of the Canadian Armed Forces. This thesis analyses that system and suggests reforms. It is aimed at those who have an interest in improving the administration of military justice at the unit level but want to sufficiently understand the issues before doing so. Through a classic legal approach with elements of legal history and comparative law, this study begins by setting military justice in the Canadian legal firmament. The introductory chapter also explains fundamental concepts, first and foremost the broader notion of discipline, for which summary trial is one of the last maintaining tools. Chapter II describes the current system. An overview of its historical background is first given. Then, each procedural step is demystified, from investigation until review. Chapter III identifies potential breaches of the Charter, highlighting those that put the system at greater constitutional risk: the lack of judicial independence, the absence of hearing transcript, the lack of legal representation and the disparity of treatment between ranks. Alternatives adopted in the Canadian Armed Forces and in foreign jurisdictions, from both common law and civil law traditions, in addressing similar challenges are reviewed in Chapter IV. Chapter V analyses whether the breaches could nevertheless be justified in a free and democratic society. Its conclusion is that, considering the availability of reasonable alternatives, it would be hard to convince a court that the current system is a legitimate impairment of the individual’s legal rights. The conclusion Chapter presents options to address current challenges. First, the approach of ‘depenalization’ taken by the Government in recent Bill C-71 is analysed and criticised. The ‘judicialization’ approach is advocated through a series of 16 recommendations designed not only to strengthen the constitutionality of the system but also to improve the administration of military justice in furtherance of service members’ legal rights.
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