These Courts are judicial bodies of the military created according to the military code. They are set up to hear and prosecute failures to obey the Military Code of Conduct including acts by soldiers arising from an act of indiscipline.
The offenses tried by the Military courts are called service offenses; these are offenses committed by military personnel while in service in Uganda or abroad. The army is organized in a very different way from civilian courts and therefore the military court system is designed for the enforcement of military discipline.
Trials before military courts are public, however,the public may be excluded for reasons of public safety, morals or defense.
Hierarchy of Military Courts
There are six (6) levels within the Military Court ranging from the lowest level which is the Summary Trial Authority to the highest known as the Court Martial Appeals Court.
Summary Trial Authority
- The powers, makeup, and responsibilities of this court can be summarised as follows:
It’s headed by a Commanding Officer or an Officer in Command;
- The accused must be of a rank equal to or lower than that of the superior authority trying him;
- The Presiding Officer may not be a lawyer;
- Responsible for mainly minor offenses;
- Cannot pass a sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months;
- The offender must be either a junior officer or militant (non-commissioned officer);
- The accused is not entitled to legal representation; and
- The accused has a right to choose to be tried by the Court Martial.
Unit Disciplinary Committee
- Comprises seven members including a Chairperson not below the rank of Captain;
- Tries only non – capital offenses;
- Must have a Paralegal, Secretary and Prosecutor;
- Can impose any sentence authorized by law;
- Is convened by either the High Command or the Division Commander; and
- Decisions are by majority opinion.
Division Court Martial
- Is made up of seven members;
- Is chaired by an officer, not below the rank of Major;
- Has unlimited jurisdiction (can try any offense under the law); and
- Is appointed by the High Command and serves for a term of one year.
Field Court Martial
This is the third highest military court. This court:
- Comprises nine members;
- Is appointed by the Commander in Chief;
- Can try any offense under the law; and
- Only works where trial by Unit Disciplinary Committee or Division Court Martial is not possible.
General Court Martial
The powers, makeup, and role of this second highest military court can be described as below:
- The Chairperson of this Court must not be below the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel and must be an Advocate;
- It has six other members of specified ranks (two senior officers; two junior officers; a political commissar; and one noncommissioned officer) all of whom shall be appointed by the High Command for one year;
- The Court has also got a Secretary and Prosecutor;
- The Court may sit at any place in Uganda;
- It has the power to try any offense under the law;
- The Court hears appeals from the Unit Disciplinary Committee and Division Court
- Martials and has, therefore, the power to change decisions from those Courts; and
- The Court can hear a case of any person subject to military law.
Court Martial Appeals Court
This is the highest military court. This Court:
- Consists of a Chairperson qualified to be appointed a Judge of the High Court;
- Has two senior Officers of the defense forces;
- Has two advocates who are members of the defense forces;
- Must have 5 members to hear any appeal where the punishment for committing an alleged offense is death;
- In any other appeal where the punishment is not death, must have 3 members to hear the case; and
- Is the final court of appeal in the military court process.
Key points to note about military courts
The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Force Act provides for circumstances under which civilians, that is ordinary citizens not in the army, can be tried under military courts. These are:
- The civilian helps a soldier in committing of a service offense.
- The civilian is found in possession of arms, ammunition or equipment usually found only in the possession of or the monopoly of the defense forces. Civilians are therefore cautioned and warned not to possess such material.
- The Police or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution can not take a civilian to the military courts.
- The powers of military courts are limited to trying people subject to military law.
- Military court often hears cases relating to the performance of military services but can also hear cases where a soldier is claimed to have committed an offense under the Penal Code Act.