The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada (CMAC) was created in 1959. As the name of the Court suggests, it has jurisdiction to hear appeals of decisions from Courts Martial which are military courts established under the National Defence Act (NDA). The Courts Martial have jurisdiction to try military personnel and civilians accompanying them abroad, for crimes and offences against the Code of Service Discipline found in the NDA. The Code of Service Discipline encompasses crimes under the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and other statutes.
In 1991, amendments to the NDA expanded the jurisdiction of the CMAC to give it full power to review the severity of sentences and to substitute sentences imposed by the Courts Martial. The amendments also gave the Crown, represented by the Minister of National Defence, the right to appeal both sentence and conviction, a right which it did not previously possess.
Today, the function and status of the CMAC is comparable to a civilian court of criminal appellate jurisdiction. Pursuant to subsection 236(1) of the NDA, it is a superior court of record. The CMAC has powers of disposition similar to those of any civilian appellate court: it can dismiss appeals, set aside convictions, order new trials, substitute a finding of guilty on another charge where the Courts Martial could have so found, or substitute any sentence imposed by a Court Martial with the sentence it considers fit. The CMAC also hears appeals from Courts Martial on findings of fitness to stand trial, stays of proceedings, release pending trial, or release pending appeal.
The judges of the CMAC are appointed by the Governor in Council from the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, and the trial and appellate justices of provincial superior courts. At present, there are 67 designated judges. Judges of the CMAC have extensive experience in criminal and military law. The Governor in Council also designates one of the judges of the Court Martial Appeal Court to be the Chief Justice. The Honourable B. Richard Bell of the Federal Court was appointed Chief Justice of the CMAC on February 6, 2015.
Appeals are heard by panels of three judges designated by the Chief Justice. The CMAC is a travelling Court and may sit at any place. Appeals of the legality of a conviction or a sentence can be filed without leave. Leave is required when the appeal is against the severity of a sentence. Decisions of the Court may be appealed on questions of law to the Supreme Court of Canada, with leave in cases of unanimous decisions, or by right in cases of a dissenting opinion.
The CMAC has an important role to play in ensuring the system of military justice conforms to the underlying values articulated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as fairness and fundamental justice.
*Please note that the CMAC is currently updating its website to provide more information about its activities.