Who is the Judge Advocate General?
The current Judge Advocate General (JAG) is His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett.
The best-known part of the Service Justice System (SJS) is the Court Martial. This is a standing court (equivalent to the Crown Court) created by the Armed Forces Act 2006 which hears criminal and disciplinary trials of Service men and women in the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, and civilians subject to Service discipline, for serious offences (or where the defendant chooses not to be dealt with by the Commanding Officer). The Judicial Office Holders who sit in the Court Martial are called Judge Advocates.
Judge Advocates preside in all cases in the courts operating within the SJS, not just the Court Martial. Judge Advocates also preside over the Summary Appeal Court (equivalent to a Circuit Judge hearing appeals from the Magistrates’ Court), and the Service Civilian Court (a special court to hear cases overseas involving civilians who are subject to Service discipline).
All Judge Advocates are members of the independent judiciary (appointed on merit by the independent Judicial Appointments Commission) and all are civilians, although some have served in the Armed Forces.
The Judge Advocate General (JAG) is the most senior Judge Advocate and the Judicial head of the Service Courts. This is an entirely standalone role meaning that the JAG is not supervised by any other Judge and he does not come under the authority of any Presiding Judge nor the Lord Chief Justice. The Service Justice System as a whole comes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.
The JAG is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen by means of Letters Patent, on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. The JAG is a Law Officer of the Crown. The JAG is not a General of the Army; the word “general” signifies broad oversight, as in Secretary-General, Attorney-General, etc.
As Judicial head of the Service Courts, the JAG has an important role in working with central Government to ensure that the system operates effectively. This involves careful liaison with the Ministry of Defence, the Service Prosecuting Authority, the Military Court Service, the Services and other agencies both directly and through the small Office of the Judge Advocate General (OJAG) which operates as a Private Office. The JAG’s Letters Patent give authority over all Service personnel in relation to the business of the Courts and provide the authority to issue sentencing guidelines and practice directions for the Service Courts. Within the Service Courts, the JAG also specifies which judge is to sit on each case.
As most senior Judge within the SJS the JAG has a pastoral responsibility for the Vice-JAG (VJAG) and Assistant-JAGs (AJAGs) with the range of HR and conduct issues that such a leadership role implies.
The JAG also represents the System internationally. As the UK system is well-respected globally the JAG is frequently contacted by other jurisdictions to give guidance on the operation of the Service Courts and to influence change in other jurisdictions.
The duties of the JAG include the following:
- To act as the Presiding Judge in the Services criminal jurisdiction and leader of its judges, thereby supervising the jurisdiction
- To provide advice to all stakeholders in the SJS on practices and procedures, developments and reforms
- Where appropriate, to monitor the workings of the Service Courts and to advise on its efficiency and effectiveness
- To issue practice directions for the Service Courts
- To issue sentencing guidelines for the Service Courts for disciplinary offences and to give guidance on Service reasons for departing from Sentencing Council Guidelines where appropriate (as permitted by Armed Forces Act 2006 s259(2)
- To issue procedural guidance for the Service Courts
- To be an observer at the Services Justice Board
- To chair the Service Courts Rules Committee
- To specify and deploy judges to conduct specific Court Martial trials in the UK or abroad
- To provide judges to conduct Summary Appeal Courts and Standing Civilian Courts, and to rule upon applications for detention in custody and for search and arrest warrants
- To act as a trial judge, conducting some of the most serious, sensitive or controversial trials in the Court Martial (such as for murder)
- To refer to the Court Martial Appeal Court cases involving a point of law of exceptional importance
- To maintain records.
More information about the SJS, its history and practice can be found here:
Military Justice, the Service Justice System, key documents and contacts