The Supreme Court has dismissed the Army’s petition seeking review of the SC’s July 2016 order which said that a summary court martial (SCM) must be held rarely and in exceptional circumstances. The court had also said that reasons for an SCM must be recorded in writing. In the review petition, the Army stated that there was no provision in the Army Act for recording reasons for an SCM.An SCM is held by the commanding officer of a corps, department or detach ment to which an accused soldier belongs. The commanding officer alone constitutes the court. The SCM can pass any sentence under the Army Act except death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

While dismissing the petition, a division bench hea ded by Chief Justice J S Khehar said reasons would have to be recorded from the date of the court’s decision –July 5, 2016. “Except for this clarification, we are satisfied that no case for review of July 2016 judgment has been made out,“ observed the bench. The case was heard on February 16 but the order was released two days ago.

In one of its most important rulings on military law, the SC had declared SCM was an exceptional provision and not the rule and affirmed the Delhi high court’s view that reasons for holding it immediately must be recorded. The Delhi HC held that the origin of SCM could be traced to the 1857 mutiny for “prompt and swift award of punishment to indisciplined Sepoy malefactors“.

It had also held that SCM as routine recourse would result in taking away “livelihood without affording normal procedural protections of law“. The SC upheld the order and also endorsed the view of an expert panel constituted by the defence minister, which said that SCM was not for regular recourse and should be replaced with a more robust system meeting constitutional norms.