Murder charge Royal Marines hearing 'may not begin for months'
THE COURTS Martial hearing for five Royal Marines charged with murder may not start for months according to a city legal expert.
Charles Hattersley, a partner at Ashfords LLP law firm, explained the process of a military Courts Martial, in front of which the five commandos will be brought.
"The key point is this is a military court; it's not a court of criminal law. Although it's subject to similar rules, the Courts Martial will be governed by the Naval Discipline Act."
Mr Hattersley, who has taken clients through Courts Martial procedure before, said that after the police hand the matter to the military police it would then be handed down to the Marines' internal legal advisors who would then be advised on the strength and weight of the evidence.
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"So we have to assume that they have had a very detailed look at the evidence and decided there is enough weight to bring charges," he explained.
In civilian courts the first step would be for the defendants to appear before magistrates, where if on a murder charge, the case would be sent to the crown court.
He added: "This is a military tribunal and therefore it can't be taken for granted that every aspect in crown court would apply. But it's not just a case of these are the charges, the case will be heard at 3pm tomorrow.
"These marines have time to see lawyers and defend against the charges being made. They would be looking to get as much help as they could."
Mr Hattersley said a huge amount of factors would need to be investigated, including whether levels of provocation are relevant and to what level rules of engagement were followed.
"We just don't know but they are entitled to a solid defence."
Putting an estimate on the timescale before a hearing would be brought, Mr Hattersley believed it would be months before a case was heard.
"Generally it will take at least a couple of months to decide how to plead and months rather than weeks before a hearing. They may have another hearing where charges are laid, then a reasonable period to allow them to gather their defence.
"If it's a really serious case the Advocate General may sit and a number of officers, who are more senior than the marines, will be brought from all three services to be on the board.
"They would still have right of appeal, it's a long way down the line but just because they are servicemen does not mean they can't have the same right as everyone else. Ultimately they could go to the European Court of Justice but that again is a long way down the line.
"Essentially they will be given time like in any court hearing, evidence will be heard under oath, there will be cross examination and chance to re-examine and call experts."
Seven Marines were arrested a week ago today and a further two over the weekend after footage emerged on a serviceman's laptop when he was arrested on a separate civilian matter.
Five were charged with murder, relating to the incident said to have happened in Afghanistan last year whilst serving with 3 Commando Brigade, and four were released without charge pending further enquiries.
The five have been kept in custody and are still to be named by the Service Prosecuting Agency, which is in charge of bringing the case to Courts Martial.