Jurisdiction of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada

The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada was created pursuant to the National Defence Act in 1959. As the name of the Court suggests, its main function is to hear appeals from courts martial, which are military trial courts also established under the National Defence Act. Courts martial hear cases of persons accused of violations under the Code of Service Discipline set out in the National Defence Act.

The Code of Service Discipline applies to all members of the Canadian Forces as well as to civilian personnel accompanying a unit of the Canadian Forces domestically or abroad. The Code of Service Discipline identifies conduct considered unacceptable in the Canadian Forces and identifies the punishment associated with such conduct. All alleged violations of the Criminal Code and other federal statutes, including the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as well as strictly military offences allegedly committed extraterritorially fall within the jurisdiction of the courts martial and hence, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada. This broad criminal and military law jurisdiction also exists for alleged offences committed within Canada but for the offences of murder, manslaughter, and abduction of a minor. If allegedly committed in Canada by military personnel, those three offences must be tried in civilian courts.

Given its unlimited territorial jurisdiction, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada may hear cases in Canada or abroad. It essentially performs the function of a provincial superior court of appellate criminal jurisdiction. Either the individual or the Minister of National Defence (representing the Crown) may appeal:

  • the severity of a sentence imposed by a court martial (leave to appeal required);
  • the legality of a finding of guilty or not guilty;
  • the legality of the whole or any part of the sentence;
  • findings of fitness to stand trial;
  • stays of proceedings;
  • release pending trial, or release pending appeal.

The Court has powers of disposition similar to those of any civilian criminal appellate court. It may dismiss an appeal, set aside a conviction, order a new trial, substitute a finding of guilty on a charge other than the one for which an accused was found guilty at court martial, or substitute for any sentence imposed by a court martial by a sentence it considers fit.

The decisions of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada may be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada from conviction, acquittal or sentence, as of right, where a justice of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada dissents on a question of law. In all other cases, leave is required.

Date modified: 2021-01-20