Catalogue description Records of the Judge Advocate General

Details of Division within WO
Reference: Division within WO
Title: Records of the Judge Advocate General

Records of the Judge Advocate General relating both to the court martial of military offenders and Second World War war crimes investigations and trials. Also contains some records of the Board of General Officers.

Courts martial: a series of registers which give details of courts martial of various types, namely general, field general, general regimental, and district:

  • Correspondence of the Judge Advocate General's Office and Board of General Officers, WO 72 and WO 93;
  • Registers of in-letters, WO 82;
  • Minute books, WO 83;
  • Letter books, WO 81;
  • Charge books, WO 84;
  • Entry books of appointment of deputy judges advocate, WO 85;
  • Court martial proceedings and registers relating to Army personnel, WO 71, WO 86, WO 87, WO 88, WO 89, WO 90, WO 91, WO 92 and WO 213;
  • Original submissions to the Crown of proceedings, WO 209;
  • Rulings in courts martial cases, WO 210;
  • Office of the Judge Advocate General, Indexes to Minute Books, WO 314.

War crimes:

  • Trial records for Second World War war crimes, WO 235 and WO 238;
  • War crimes files of the Military Deputy, WO 311; with personal name and other indexes, WO 353;
  • Records of War Crimes groups attached to the Allied Forces in Europe, WO 235, WO 309, WO 310 and WO 331;
  • Records of War Crimes groups attached to the Allied Forces in South East Asia, WO 325;
  • Name indexes of people wanted in connection with war crimes investigations, WO 354, WO 355, WO 356, with 'record cards' for South East Asia, WO 357.

Date: c1650-1987
Related material:

For further court martial proceedings and registers, see:

For case files of civilian courts see Records of the Standing Civilian Courts ER

For records of the Courts Martial Appeal Court, see Supreme Court of Judicature and related courts, Division within J

Other records of the Judge Advocate General are in Division within LCO

Further records on war crimes are also in TS 26

For other records of the Treasury Solicitor relating to prisoners of war, war crimes and their investigation see TS 27

WO 28

For papers of the Army and Air Force Courts Martial Committee 1938 see WO 225

For papers of the Committee on Detention Barracks 1943 see WO 226

WO 15/36

WO 14/127

Separated material:

No records of regimental courts martial were sent to the Judge Advocate General's Office, though it is possible that some may survive among records preserved by individual regiments.

For records relating to Royal Air Force personnel see Air Ministry, Division within AIR

Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Board of General Officers, 1706-1855

Judge Advocate Generals Office, 1660-1905

Lord Chancellor's Department, Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Forces, 1972-

Lord Chancellor's Office, Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Forces, 1948-1972

War Office, Judge Advocate Generals Office, 1905-1923

War Office, Office of the Judge Advocate General, 1923-1935

War Office, Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Forces, 1935-1948

Physical description: 32 series
Administrative / biographical background:

Judge Advocate General

The office of the Judge Advocate or the Judge Advocate General can be traced back at least to the Civil War, and at the Restoration the office was placed on the permanent establishment of the Army. From the time of the establishment of a standing army in the late seventeenth century, the Judge Advocate General was the legal officer entrusted by the Crown with the administration of military law. Since 1682 its holder has been appointed by letters patent. Originally he was a lawyer whose functions were the making of arrangements for courts martial, the prosecution of military offenders before them and the recording of their proceedings.

His duties in connection with courts martial soon extended to acting as legal adviser to the court and advising the Sovereign on the exercise of the prerogative of mercy with regard to sentences of courts martial. He also acted as secretary and legal adviser to the Board of General Officers, and regularly appointed its members to meet and examine reported incidents of misbehaviour by officers and soldiers. Such cases as were deemed proper were then referred to courts martial. From at least 1666 to 1706 he personally laid the proceedings of general courts martial before the Sovereign, for confirmation of sentence. For a century from 1706 he did so through the Secretary-at-War, with submissions as to the legality of the finding and sentence. Subsequently, his channel of communication with the Sovereign was successively the commander-in-chief (from 1806) and the Secretary of State for War (from 1905).

From 1793 to 1904, he was the legal adviser to the commander-in-chief (and thereafter to the secretary of state) and later to the Army and Air Councils and the Defence Council. From 1806, however, the office of Judge Advocate General carried Privy Councillor status and thus personal access to the Sovereign, which enabled him again to submit cases directly.

From 1806 to 1892 the Judge Advocate General was a junior minister and spokesman for the commander-in-chief in Parliament, and the appointment was regarded as a political office. In 1892 he ceased to be a minister, and from that date his office was wholly judicial and advisory in character. Initially, the post was held by the president of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court but he was unpaid and acted mainly through deputies whom he was empowered to appoint. In 1905 a Judge Advocate General was appointed as part of the War Office. From 1918 he became legal adviser also to the Secretary of State for Air and had responsibility for courts martial of RAF personnel.

In 1923 a Military and Air Force Department of his office was formed to undertake prosecutions, thus separating the office's prosecuting and judicial functions. During this period, the office's title was changed to the Office of the Judge Advocate General, and then to the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Forces. On 1 October 1948, following the reports of the Army and Air Force Courts-Martial Committees 1938 and 1946, a complete separation was effected, with the prosecuting functions passing to new Directorates of Legal Services in the War Office and Air Ministry.

The Judge Advocate General retained his judicial functions but was placed under the Lord Chancellor instead of the Secretaries of State for War and Air. To provide for appeals against conviction from courts martial a Courts-Martial Appeal Court was also established under the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951. This act also made a number of provisions for appointments, etc, to the Judge Advocate General's Office.

Standing Civilian Courts which were established for the trial overseas of civilians under the Standing Civilian Courts and Standing Civilian Courts (Areas) Orders 1977 fell within the jurisdiction of the Judge Advocate General.

Courts Martial

As follows:

  • (a) General Court Martial. A general court martial was the Army's supreme tribunal, convened to try any case involving a commissioned officer and the most serious cases involving other ranks. It could only be convened by a warrant from the Crown or by specially appointed deputies such as the commander-in-chief, the Chief Governor of Ireland, colonial governors general, or the commanders of overseas stations. A judge advocate had to be present at every trial and the court had to consist of not less than thirteen commissioned officers at home and not less than five overseas. All sentences were subject to confirmation by the Sovereign or by the deputy who issued the warrants, and details had to be submitted to the Judge Advocate General's Office to ensure that all was legally in order. In addition, all cases involving officers which led to dismissal from the service or cashiering had to be personally confirmed by the Sovereign.
  • (b) Field General Courts Martial. In time of war, most serious charges arising overseas were dealt with by field general courts martial which were smaller and simpler to convene. They could consist of as few as three officers, though the president where possible was to be a major at least. A judge advocate could be appointed but rarely was. These courts could impose any sentence which was open to a general court martial, but if it was the death penalty, then the decision had to be unanimous. The sentence had then to be confirmed by the proper authority, which for capital offences was the area commander-in-chief. Commissioned officers were not tried by field general courts martial.
  • (c) General Regimental Court Martial. This was more limited in its jurisdiction. It could not try commissioned officers or cases such as mutiny, desertion or sleeping on post, which carried the death penalty. It was replaced in 1829 by the district or garrison court martial.
  • (d) District or Garrison Court Martial. This required a minimum of seven officers at home and five overseas. It could be convened by the senior officer of a unit or depot but at the discretion of the general officer commanding, who could reserve convening to himself. The court president could not be of a rank lower than captain and could not be the commanding officer of the accused. In general, serious crimes were not tried by district courts martial which could not pass sentences of death, transportation or floggings of more than one hundred and fifty lashes. All sentences had to be confirmed by the general officer commanding and details submitted to the Judge Advocate General's Office.
  • (e) Regimental Courts Martial. Other ranks charged with lesser offences could also be tried by regimental courts martial, whose powers were further limited. These courts had to enter details in a regimental court martial book but did not have to submit details to a higher authority for confirmation.

Prior to 1951, soldiers had no right of appeal against either the verdict or sentence of a court martial, though the confirming officer could, and often did, reduce the sentence or even pardon the offence.

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