Fundamental Changes Needed To Improve the Independence and Efficiency of the Military Justice System

FPCD-78-16: Published: Oct 31, 1978. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 1978.

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The military justice system encompasses the processes for imposing punishment on military personnel and for challenging the punishment imposed. The system operates separately from the civilian justice system under constitutional and legislative authority. The military justice system has been criticized as being inequitable because it deprives military service members of many due processes of law.

Many problems were found in defense and trial counsel organizations in the four military services that lead to perceptions that military justice is uneven, unfair, and of low priority. In the Army and Marine Corps, defense counsels work directly for convening authorities who are also commanding officers. In the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, inadequate staffing criteria and personnel assignment practices have resulted in significant differences in the number of cases per counsel. Procedures to assign counsel based on experience, complexity, and current workload are the exception rather than the rule. The number of support staff is generally inadequate, and procedures for selection of witnesses generally favor the prosecution. Counsel effectiveness is frequently hampered by inadequate facilities, equipment, and courtrooms and by a lack of privacy. Under current organizational modes, the costs of military justice are unknown. GAO believes that there should be a single defense and trial counsel organization within the Department of Defense.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should revise the Uniform Code of Military Justice to remove convening authorities' responsibility for administering and funding the justice system.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should: (1) consolidate defense and trial counsel organizations at single and proximate bases where feasible and cost-effective; (2) establish budgeting processes allowing for the development of total costs of military justice and for comparison of costs between services; (3) study and report on methods to enhance the independence of counsel; (4) direct the services to establish uniform criteria and methods for identifying numbers of counsel and support staff needed and make assignments consistent with the counsel's experience, workload, and case complexity; (5) propose changes to the Manual for Courts Martial; and (6) direct the services to establish systems to fund logistical support to counsel.

    Agency Affected:


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