LINCOLN lawyer Gilbert Blades, who is challenging the courts martial system, has been questioning its fairness for the last 20 years.
Blades has carved out a niche in defending servicemen and women, and has now presented a dossier of cases to the European Commission of Human Rights.
He is arguing on behalf of Royal Air Force and Army personnel that the system is unjust. It discriminates against the accused because both the appeal process and the standards of proof required are inadequate.
Blades says the system breaches Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights because there is no right to a jury trial and appeal to the Courts Martial Appeal Court is only available against conviction. Appeal against sentence is by way of petition to the board of service concerned.
But the Ministry of Defence, which has been notified that a challenge has been lodged, maintains that the system is laid down by Acts of Parliament and all recruits are told they will be subject to it.
“The first time I went into a courts martial, I felt we hadn't got a chance,” says Blades. “The accused is tried by his superiors, not his peers.”
Blades, the head of a three-partner practice, specialises in service work due to his firm's location close to several RAF bases in Lincolnshire.
He challenged the system after the R v Genereux case which was before the Canadian Supreme Court in 1992.
“The Canadian system was based on the British model but the courts found it to be unconstitutional,” he says.