Sgt Blackman, known during his trial as Marine A, has had his sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter. He’s had his life sentence reduced to 7 years and because of time served he’ll be home in the next few weeks.

Scotland has a big community of Royal Marines and ex-bootnecks, along with Arbroath’s 45 Commando, a battery of 29 Commando Royal Artillery soldiers and all the additional, honourable, accoutrements. There’s a lot of empathy in Scotland for a man tipped over the edge in an ultra-violent situation.

When the case was debated at the House of Commons, all the many ex-service (and serving TA) personnel felt the same – Sgt Blackman committed a terrible offence and should have gone to jail, but the law isn’t designed for soldiers in combat. Manslaughter, we all felt, should be an option for a court-martial presented with evidence of an experienced soldier showing signs of breakdown who goes on to kill unlawfully.

It turns out that the law does provide for exactly that – that’s why the Courts Martial Appeal Court downgraded the conviction. That this was open to the court martial in the first place suggests that something isn’t right with the court martial system. It really shouldn’t have taken over 3 years to get to where we are.

Years ago, I convicted a soldier of murder as a member of a General Court Martial. We sent him to jail for life. A year later, his conviction was overturned by the Courts Martial Appeal Court. A while later, I wondered in parliament if courts martial, where soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen don’t get a trial by their peers, should still be handling murder cases in this day and age. Of course, the services always have their eyes on the possibility of big wars in foreign fields where they have to administer their own disciplinary (note; not justice) systems. And a commander shooting a prisoner, even in the heat of battle, is something which might be considered best understood by service personnel.

But, for me, the least the court martial system can do now is introduce jurors of all ranks so that folk on trial really do get a trial by their peers and not discipline by their superiors – after all, they do go to civilian prison if they’re convicted of a serious offence. The services won’t want to do that but the Blackman case throws up issues large enough to justify it to a government of any colour but blue.

In an independent Scotland, we’d be able to start afresh with issues like this – issues often a long way from most folk’s everyday thoughts. We wouldn’t be hidebound by tradition; we’d be able to create new, modern, sensible and fair structures across the board. Everyone can play a part in this right now by putting some thought into the areas of public policy they know about, however seemingly obscure. That’s one way for us all to help raise the standard of pubic dialogue around independence and move it beyond the sterile and juvenile nonsense repeated ad nauseum by Scotland’s unionists.



9 Responses to Sgt Blackman, and how an independent Scotland might do it differently
  1. When you put people in a situation where they are expected to kill others then bad things are going to happen.
    The problem this person had was getting caught on camera.
    I don’t recall Bomber Harris being indicted for war crimes,nor Tony Blair and so on it goes where there is one law for some and another for establishment figures.
    Can’t condone what this soldier did but who knows how any of us would react in such circumstances.

  2. Your right in respect of the specific case of Sgt. Blackman. He did commit an illegal act but there were mitigating circumstances involved around the offence which, in my opinion, were not taken fully into account. .The “Battlefield stress” factor was certainly overlooked and the covert Political pressure to come to “right decision” cannot be ignored. Having served in uniform (RAF) and found myself at wrong end of Military Justice (?) …. I harbour no love for it and agree with you that the Civilian Courts are far better qualified to deal with alleged serious crimes ….. taking into account all mitigating factors. The Military and their Justice system can deal with the minor military code transgressions. In this particular individuals case, he has lost his career, served time, will carry a criminal record, dishonourable discharge ….. basically all he work for, wanted and believed in has been erased. He was found guilty of a crime, which he did commit, but without all the extenuating factors being considered. Punished ? …. I would say so

    • I couldn’t agree more with you. Importantly, he’s been discharged honourably so he’ll keep his pension and he knows what’s being said.

      The political pressure, by the way, is always from upper-middle-ranking officers. Politicians leave well alone and senior officers try to find sense. That’s my modest experience of the MoD. Civil Servants, by the way, are usually far more powerful than uniformed folk in these things. Thanks for your thoughts – I can see they’re heartfelt and I really appreciate you taking the time.

  3. Scots law was considerably updated in the case of Kim Galbraith, where a court of five judges restated the rules about culpable homicide to reflect modern psychiatric practice. The full judgement can be found here: Prior to that case the rules had not changed since the case of Savage in 1920.

  4. Cases like Sergeant Blackman’s are difficult ones and ones which need more consideration. I have not served in the armed forces. My father did and he was in combat during the Second World War. I think he was genuinely conflicted in his attitudes to events. He viewed German and Italian soldiers as fellow humans but was aware that they were expected to try kill him and his friends as he was them. He had a range of attitudes towards Egyptians and Libyans, which ranged from the racist (probably the norm in the Empire days) to the admiring. He always felt he owed his life to a Senoussi tribesman in Libya and always spoke of the man with reverence. He saw appalling acts committed by allied soldiers. Often he would try to justify it by terms like ‘stress of combat’ etc. but he was genuinely puzzled by it.
    Recently, Neal Ascherson wrote an article about his own conduct as a national serviceman in Malaya, where he admitted to killing a wounded opponent. For me, this was a pivotal read.
    Our troops need to have rules of engagement and things must be properly investigated. And, I think that Mr Joyce’s suggestion of being judged by one’s peers in the armed forces is worthy of consideration. The military courts must be subservient to the civil law, but, I think we need to look at how justice can be done to someone who, in a time of stress, which I cannot imagine, carries out a wrong act, indeed, one, which, involves the intentional killing of another person who is incapable of defending her or himself at that time.
    We must not let our revulsion at the racist, xenophobic, jingoistic attitudes of some of the supporters of the soldier bias us against the person himself.

    • Yes, Neil Ascherson was super on the subject. You’re right, it’s an enlightening read.

  5. If the infamous teacher/soldier Joyce actually kept up he’d know the DCM system was changed decades ago and trials are done in front of peers ie not just three officers who usually were stuck at the rank of Major and did DCMs for 20 years! It’s a lot easier to get off as a result!

    • First, I keep up. You’re confused about how courts martial were ever run, by the way. You’re thinking of standing court martial chairs, who chaired less serious cases but who had the same vote as all the other court martial members – who once were indeed all officers. The murder case I sat on, in 1996, was chaired by a Brigadier and had six other officers upon it including a standing chair who sat as an ordinary member. The Judge Advocate General (JAG) by then had taken on responsibility for running the court and was treated by the court in all respects as the judge. Shortly after then, in some tiny part because I and others argued for it, warrant officers were included in the make-up of courts martial.

      Upon the re-organisation of Courts Martial, the service chiefs decided against recommending the all-ranks should be eligible for court martial service – as they are in the US – not on the basis that they couldn’t do the job, but because Courts martial are part of the services disciplinary process and in the end reflect the will of the chain of command. Although the services do everything they can now to make the process very close to the civilian one, they have not yielded the principle that courts martial are indeed disciplinary.

      My feeling, and I know this is held by a lot of people who have thought about the issue, is that serious charges – such as murder and rape – are in this day and age probably best dealt with in civilian courts. However, I accept the services’ argument that the courts martial system should deal. That is why I suggest we do the same as the US and allow all-ranks to sit on courts martial.

      It looks like you think that’s the case already – but it ain’t.

      It’s worth saying that one worry some senior officers had (and likely have today) to change is not that it’d stop them lording it over troops but because there may be an uptick in unsound convictions.

    • Oh, and by the way, if I had a penny for every wanker who disrespected my service as an infantry private soldier and my subsequent, modestly successful, half-career to the rank of Major, I’d be a rich man.


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