Academic journal article Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal

Military Law, Justice, and Culture in the British Army

Academic journal article Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal

Military Law, Justice, and Culture in the British Army

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

As members of a disciplined force, British soldiers (1) of all ranks live under rules. Formal published rules abound in their daily experience, and they are expected to comply with and obey them. For example, at the organisational level of the unit (the regiment or battalion (2)), Daily Routine Orders are published which give details of 'reveille' (the time to wake up), where soldiers are to be, when, what they are to wear, and the timing of meals, amongst other things. At an intermediate level there are rules that cover soldierly duties and procedures, and set limits to options for what soldiers may do. Examples of such rules are Formation (3) Standing Orders, Standing Instructions, and Standing Operating Procedures, all of which apply at unit level and above, depending on what level they are published at. Globally, within the institution of the British Army, there are orders and instructions from Military Commands and the Ministry of Defence level, and at the highest level of all there is the Army Act 1955, an Act of Parliament (4). This and associated domestic and international law is published or referenced in the Manual of Military Law (MOD, 1972) with further explanations and guidance to avoid ambiguities. Soldiers are required to know and obey all these orders and instructions and can be subject to sanction if they do not. The law also requires soldiers to obey all lawful orders given to them by a superior officer. An order is only unlawful if it would cause the soldier to violate either national or international law. It follows that the giving and taking of orders is a regular and constant feature of life in the Army.

The formal apparatus of orders of all kinds is played out through the rank structure which places each individual at a particular level in the military organisation (see, for example, Hockey, 1986: 3; von Zugbach, 1988: 15). However, this apparently highly structured system is tempered to some extent by the existence of 'chains of command' which limit the business of making and taking orders to those in the same segments of the organisational system. Chains of command thus establish for each individual their own set of seniors and juniors for the business of normal organisational life. Thus whilst a visiting senior officer might be legally entitled to give an order to a private soldier from another unit s/he would not expect, or be expected, to do so as they would not be in the same organisational segment (the unit).

An outsider may therefore be forgiven for deducing that life in the British Army is dominated by rules with the force of law which severely constrain soldiers' freedom of action, but this is not the case. Room for manoeuvre is created in the processes of daily life not only in the formal definition of chains of command but also by common practices embedded in the Army's organisational culture. This article explores the existence of regimes of practice which lie between the exercise of the law and culturally founded concepts, especially those of justice and fair play, as lived in the context of the British Army's organisational culture within a particular time slot (1990 to 2000). It does so by taking an incident and exploring the formal and informal options as it proceeds through the legal process.

2. The Research Base

The research for this article was founded in the author's extensive experience in the British Army as a serving officer of thirty-six years, and was carried out during long periods of insider anthropology. The term 'insider anthropology' is not well defined in the literature, but in the context of this article it means that the researcher shares, at the start of the project, at least some aspects of the culture of the group being studied. Different studies show different degrees of 'insiderness'. For instance, in some cases the researcher is a full participating member of the group being studied, as in the case of Young's (1991) study of the Northumbria Police Force and Collins' of Quakers (1998, 2002). …

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